What Parents Need to Know About Supported Employment for Individuals with Multiple Disabilities
Supported Employment (SE) is a program established by the federal government in the 1980s that enables individuals with severe disabilities to become employed. It is a complex system that blends resources from a variety of sources. The following information provides a general description of supported employment.
What Is Supported Employment?
It is a model of employment that provides people with severe disabilities the appropriate, ongoing support that is necessary for success in a competitive work environment. Most individuals in a supported employment program receive services from a community-based service provider. Generally, community-based service providers offer vocational assessment, locate or develop jobs, and provide job skills training. Most providers have job coaches who work at the job site and help the client learn job tasks, identify job modifications including assistive technology, and work with the employer to solve behavioral or social problems.
Who Is Supported Employment Designed to Help?
It is for individuals with severe disabilities who need lifelong, ongoing support. An individual with vision loss who has additional, severe disabilities would, therefore, be eligible for supported employment. Most individuals with vision loss only need access to information and not direct support and therefore are not candidates for supported employment.
Where Is Supported Employment Located?
Supported employment is never in a segregated setting with all coworkers being disabled. The federal government has defined what employment settings meet their definition of supported employment. Examples of employment settings for supported employment would be:
- In a competitive job with no other individuals with disabilities.
- Part of an enclave of no more than six individuals with disabilities.
- Part of a mobile crew of no more than six individuals with disabilities who travel to different locations to provide a service such as cleaning or landscaping.
- Self-employed business. An example would be a client who has set up a company that shreds documents for various businesses.
When Is Supported Employment Appropriate?
Supported employment can begin as part of a vocational rehabilitation program once an individual has left the public school system. Vocational rehabilitation has a responsibility to provide supported employment services when appropriate. School systems play a role as they are mandated to formally plan for the transition from school into adult services. Schools should also take an active role in providing career education, skills training, and job sampling as part of their services.
How Does Supported Employment Happen?
Supported employment begins with the assembling of a team of individuals who will explore options and create a plan for supported employment. The planning team should include the individual who is disabled, their family, school personnel, adult service providers, and members of the community who may be able to provide information and assistance. Vocational rehabilitation can begin the supported employment plan and will fund services for a designated length of time, usually one year. Supported employment requires that services be provided without disruption, and the plan must designate the source of extended support service funds. State agencies that typically provide such funding are developmental disability, intellectual disability, mental health, or similar agencies. When state agencies are not available to fund supported employment, extended services solutions have been found by creative use of other programs such as Supplemental Security Income.
During the planning process, a community-based service provider must be located to provide the actual supported employment services. Typically, the community-based service provider begins by providing intensive services in vocational assessment, job location, and job placement but might also include job skill training, assistive technology, necessary job modifications, and on-going support. Once a person has been placed on a job, his or her need for ongoing support may diminish over time. The goal is for the employer to eventually provide the “natural” supports available from coworkers.
Why Is There Supported Employment?
Supported employment is the end point of the movement to retain individuals with severe disabilities within the communities in which they live. Previously, these same people might have spent their lives in segregated settings such as institutions. Supported employment is a means by which people can be successful in employment that fits their talents, interests, and abilities.