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How can individuals with disabilities seek and pursue employment?

Employment within the regular workforce has been made possible for individuals with disabilities through the use of techniques referred to as customized and supported employment. All individuals who want to work can do so through the utilization of these techniques.


Do assume that you and/or the person you assist is employable

Since the early eighties, people with disabilities and professionals in the disability field have been proving that individuals with the most significant disabilities can work within the regular workforce. However, a good fit between the individual and the job is essential. This includes attention to what an individual enjoys doing, their interests and skills. Often, people with significant disabilities require some level of accommodation for a good job match. Typical accommodations might include a modified work schedule or modified job duties.

Do look for companies with a history of hiring people with disabilities

Many companies are committed to hiring people with disabilities because they understand that hiring these individuals provides a solid return on investment. After all, people with disabilities have been shown to have similar or greater performance when it comes to safety, productivity and attendance, when compared to their nondisabled peers. Additionally, people with disabilities make up approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population. Many businesses have come to realize that people with disabilities represent an untapped labor pool. They also represent an untapped customer base that can pay out big time dividends in expanded customers and customer loyalty.

Do understand supported employment

Supported employment is paid work in integrated settings (regular business settings) with ongoing support (typically provided by an employment professional). The promise of supported employment is that people with disabilities can be employed, regardless of the barriers to employment associated with disability that one may experience. People can use supported employment services to provide discovery (to determine what jobs may provide a good job match), personalized job search, on-the-job training assistance and ongoing employment support. Ongoing support typically involves contacting both the employee and the employer monthly to assure the employment relationship remains strong, as well as providing intervention if requested by either party.

Do recognize how customized employment works

In recent years, supported employment efforts in the U.S. have been refined to customize the job to improve the match between the person and job. These efforts--referred to as customized employment--result in providing accommodations so that everyone with a disability can work in a typical employment setting.

According to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, customized employment is “a flexible process designed to personalize the employment relationship between a job candidate and an employer in a way that meets the needs of both. It is based on an individualized match between the strengths, conditions and interests of a job candidate and the identified business needs of an employer. Customized employment utilizes an individualized approach to employment planning and job development—one person at a time, one employer at a time.”


Do not settle for segregated programs

Employment segregation is against the law, according to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This point was reaffirmed by the 1999 Supreme Court Olmstead Ruling. Basically, the Olmstead Ruling states that people with disabilities must be served in the “most integrated setting” when state and local dollars are used to fund a program serving people with disabilities. The Department of Justice is beginning to enforce this law within a number of states in the U.S. It is expected that the injustice of employment segregation will end in the not too distant future.

Do not be persuaded by those who believe individuals with disabilities are unemployable

If you are told you are unemployable, go to a different employment professional. Contact the Association of People Supporting EmploymentFirst (APSE) to find local professionals who provide supported employment services. Visit for more information.

Do not overlook the need to find an agency with experience

Supported and customized employment efforts are typically offered by local employment agencies that may specialize in assisting people with disabilities to obtain employment. Be sure to ask for references and/or testimonials from people willing to be contacted directly by the person or family seeking employment assistance.

A commitment to real employment outcomes is essential as some agencies continue to persuade people that group employment or segregated employment is necessary if someone wants a job. This is patently false. While it can be difficult to find employment for people with significant barriers to employment associated with disability, the agency must have a “can-do” attitude based on their successful history of achieving employment outcomes.

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Everyone who wants to work can do so--no matter how significant a person’s disability-related employment barrier may be. Supported employment and customized employment technologies often hold the key to employment for people with disabilities who experience significant employment barriers. Do not settle for less than full integration in the workplace and your community. The ADA gives you that right.

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Bob LawheadCEO

For the past twenty-five years Bob Lawhead has served as CEO of Community Link, a non-profit agency supporting community integrated employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Bob received his MA Ed. / Educational ...

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