Supported Employment Service Providers' Best Practices
There are nine best practices that are encompassed in a customer-driven approach to supported employment. Central to the concept is the idea that the customer is in control of the process. The role of the employment specialist is to assist the customer in reaching his or her career goals. The best practices form the foundation for the customer-driven approach to supported employment. High quality supported employment service providers will incorporate these practices into their daily activities of implementing supported employment services.
9 Best Practices in a Customer-Driven Approach to Supported Employment
The opportunity to make choices concerning employment, living arrangements, and recreation has been limited or nonexistent for many individuals with disabilities. It has become increasingly evident that the powerlessness and lack of direction frequently felt by people with disabilities are related to the attitudes and practices of service providers, care givers, funding agencies, and society in general rather than any true limitation as a result of an individual’s disability.
For example, some individuals have never had an opportunity to make choices. Decision-making skills have not been taught or encouraged, or adequate information about alternatives has not been available. Many people with disabilities have voiced their concerns that all too frequently decisions are made by professionals who feel that they know best and that self-assertion is often ignored, under-estimated, or seen as a challenging behavior.
Customer choice frequently has been restricted by other external forces such as agency regulations, lack of accessible information, inadequate supports, or stereotypical attitudes.
For example, an individual may be forced to choose between attending the sheltered workshop or a job that he or she does not like, because the agency requires that all residents who live in the group home have eight hours of day
Choice in a customer-driven model of supported employment would dictate that all supported employment customers are presented with a variety of experiences, options, and supports to achieve career goals of their choice. If individuals are to experience personal satisfaction and quality of life, regardless of the level or type of disability, they must be given the opportunity and support to express preferences.
Supported employment customers need to be directing the process by choosing the service provider, the subsequent employment specialist, and the specific support services that they may need to obtain and maintain employment. State vocational rehabilitation programs can assist customers with this process by sharing supported employment agency summary data for the identification and selection of a service provider.
The concept of control expands the above definition of choice to a broader concept of exerting control and ultimately self-determination. Customers of supported employment must be in a position to not only choose their service provider and employment specialist but to have a measure of control over the services that they seek. Federal legislation has begun to recognize the importance of this concept and the rights of persons with disabilities to have control over their lives.
Control, as a concept in a customer-driven approach, is used to refer to an individual’s ability to access supported employment services and to freely act upon his or her choices and decisions without fear of reprisal. Supported employment customers must be free to participate in supported employment services by choosing a service provider or employment specialist, by accepting or declining a specific job, or by electing to resign or continue employment with a particular company.
Career development is an important consideration for any adult seeking employment. However, many supported employment service providers gauge success by the length of time an individual remains in the same employment position. In addition, service providers often put too much emphasis on the number of placements that they make rather than on customer satisfaction with an employment situation.
These practices continue to occur for a number of reasons including inaccurate interpretation of federal and/or state rehabilitation policies that results in failure to use funds for job advancement; and limited employment expectations for people with disabilities among service providers, which directs customers into dead-end positions.
The customer-driven approach to supported employment places an increased emphasis on the initial time that a direct service provider spends with the customer to assist with the identification of career goals. High quality service providers must be skilled in working closely with their customers to develop strategies for marketing their service, establishing a rapport with the business community, interviewing employers, and conducting in-depth job analysis of specific employment settings. Completing this process will yield an extensive amount of information for the customer to determine if the wages, benefits, conditions, supports, and corporate culture are sufficient for long term career development.
Full Community Inclusion
The concept of full community inclusion calls for a vision of society in which all persons are viewed in terms of their abilities and are welcomed into the mainstream of community life. The whole notion of community inclusion stresses relationships both formal and informal, as well as, business and social. Yet, a segment of the general public has the impression that people with disabilities are better served when they are with other people with similar disabilities.
This faulty notion persists, in part, due to the creation of special services for people with disabilities and by not adequately representing or connecting people with disabilities to the formal and informal social structures. In a customer-driven approach, the customers of supported employment services work with service providers in the marketing of the employment service.
Developing a marketing approach and materials with the customers of the service will help to ensure that people with disabilities are represented in a positive manner to the business community. In addition, the employment specialist needs to actively assist customers in developing networks that are based on his or her desires, wants and, needs. Too often, employment specialists have personally provided critical employment supports rather than taking additional time to find a family, friend, or community source for the same support. Relationship building at the business site will be vital to building full community inclusion and achieving employment satisfaction.
For example, working age adults spend, on average, 40 hours a week at their place of employment. The office or business setting is where many social relationships are formed. This same principle holds true for people with disabilities. However, because some people are still uncertain of how to approach someone with a disability, the employment specialist can assist by breaking down these artificial barriers from the first day of work. Assisting individuals with disabilities to obtain full inclusion in the work setting will facilitate a new vision of community where all members are valued.
Long Term Supports
Supported employment provides for the necessary supports to assist an individual with long term employment retention. By federal definition, supported employment includes at least two monthly contacts at the job site unless the customer requests otherwise. The long term support component is an extremely unique feature among rehabilitation services. Unlike other services, the entire notion of service termination is never addressed.
The intention behind this feature of supported employment is the realization that individuals, as well as businesses, are fluid. Individuals do not simply get a job in a local business and then stay there for the rest of their lives. While the likelihood of remaining in the same occupation has remained constant, staying with the same employer or even in the same industry has declined significantly over the last ten years (National Alliance of Business, 1996).
Despite the importance of long term supports, it is the area of supported employment that has received the least amount of attention. Generally, service providers are very concerned with options for funding of this component of supported employment. Yet, the entire notion of type and level of support has been left open for individual interpretation.
In a customer-driven approach, the long term supports should be designed to assist the customer in the identification and provision of supports and extended services which maintain and enhance the person's position as a valued member of the work force. It is vital to note that many of the issues and concerns that are presented in the long term support stage began prior to employment or during the initial weeks of employment.
There is a strong connection between the employment match process and long term employment success. Retention and employment satisfaction must be planned for from the beginning. Customers actively participating in all employment decisions, from the beginning including type and level of supports and interventions, will help to ensure satisfaction. Employment specialists must move away from the notion of stabilization and focus on long term success.
Co-worker support, assistive technology, wages, co-worker relationships, friendships, changes in work routine, and employee and employer satisfaction are the key issues that must be addressed in an extended services plan. Supported employment customers, employers, and direct service providers need to determine individualized strategies for providing support that will assist in career advancement and, ultimately, facilitate long term job satisfaction for the customer and the employer.
Community & Business Supports
As stated earlier, the whole notion of support has been vital to the national expansion of supported employment. The individualized nature of supported employment in the delivery of needed assistance in conjunction with an employment specialist is the major reason why supported employment is widely accepted and promoted by people with disabilities. As the customer-driven approach evolves, the employment specialist must develop the necessary skills to ensure that the customers of the service are directing the process.
Natural supports as originally introduced includes supports to be provided by individuals, such as co-workers and employers, who are not hired by a human services organization. In a customer-driven approach, these supports include a full range of supports that can be found both at the employee’s place of business and in the community. They are designed to assist an individual with employment and community participation. An employment specialist must be prepared and have the necessary knowledge to develop community and business supports, facilitate informed choice, assist in assessing preferred choice, provide a variety of individualized supports, coordinate and monitor all types of assistance and respond to changes over time.
The direct service providers of supported employment should be spending less time actually engaged in delivering a support and more time engaged in assessing a situation with a customer, sharing information about possible support options, assisting the customer in accessing the support option, and evaluating the effectiveness of the strategy.
Continuous Quality Improvement
The concept of continuous quality improvement is known by many different terms and variations to include: Total Quality Control, Total Quality Improvement, Total Quality, and Managing for Quality. There are striking similarities between these terms that generally refer to an approach that can be used by a service delivery provider to constantly reevaluate quality. Continuous quality improvement calls for service providers to focus their time and energy on improving the process, the product, and the service. The key to continuous improvement is driven and defined by the customer.
In a customer-driven approach to supported employment services, providers must listen to the wishes and desires of persons with significant disabilities to determine the agency’s mission, goals and objectives. People with disabilities who are participating in sup-ported employment or who are actively seeking services should be assisting in developing and evaluating services. In addition, employment specialists should play an active role in assisting the agency with continuous quality improvement. Having job coaches, job developers, and customers working together will give the agency the necessary data to drive the quality improvement.
Since the early 1970's, assistive technology or rehabilitation technology has emerged and opened unlimited employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Individuals who at one time faced enormous barriers concerning accessibility, communication, and mobility can now optimize their intellectual and physical capabilities. With the use of voice synthesizers, people are able to express their wants and desires. Computers can be operated by a human voice or a simple gaze of an eye. This new technology is unlocking doors and providing opportunities for a greater number of people to obtain and maintain employment.
Supported employment has always been about assisting one person at a time in achieving employment satisfaction. Yet, over time, some people continue to be excluded from supported employment. Person-centered planning seeks to support the contributions of each person in his or her local community by building a support group around the individual.
This support group or community network functions together to assist the focus person in obtaining his or her goals and aspirations. Group members commit to regular get-together designed to solve problems, develop strategies, and make commitments to act on behalf of the focus person with a disability.
In a customer-driven approach to sup-ported employment, person-centered planning provides an excellent tool for the customer to direct the career process. Family, friends, and paid care givers meet together to assist the individual in obtaining and maintaining community integrated competitive employment. The support group continues to meet even after a job is found to assist the individual in maintaining career satisfaction and other goals for full community inclusion.
Source: VCU - RRTC on Workplace Supports