Many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities don’t have access to the range of jobs available to other citizens. Professionals, and even families, decide whether they can work at typical community jobs. If someone decides you need to work in center-based employment or as part of a crew, you are limited to the very narrow types of jobs supported by the provider organization.
A few decades ago I was a young job developer working on one of the first projects in the nation to demonstrate the use of natural job supports. The work we did on this project was the foundation for what is now called customized employment. In working through the process, I found myself stymied by a young man attending the transition program:
“Where do you think you would like to work?” I asked.
“Cub Foods,” he responded.
“Because that’s where my friends work.”
As it turned out this was the young man’s only opportunity at working in the community, and while he knew he wanted to work he didn’t have much experience on which to base a decision.
Today, we find ourselves using terms like person-centered, informed choice, and Supported Decision-Making as we assist people with disabilities in finding their way into the workforce.
Kaposia has a long history of providing person-centered services that focus on helping individuals find employment in the community. In the ’80s we began the process of moving people from center-based work into the community. In 1990, we closed our workshop. In the 2000’s we shifted our focus away from primarily finding individuals work as part of a crew in the community to exclusively finding individual jobs based on their unique interests and abilities. In the past decade we made a concerted effort to work with employers to customize jobs to better fit the skills of job seekers and better meet the needs of the employer.
The mission statement of Kaposia reflects this person-centered focus: Kaposia invests in the prosperity of people with disabilities and the profitability of our partners. For a long time, we looked at a variety of stakeholders as our customers including parents, employers, funders, etc. By separating them out into the partners category, it focused our efforts more narrowly on the person with a disability while also acknowledging that these partners and their needs were important as well.
Our organization chart (see Figure 1) outlines what is important to our organization. In the center is the heart of why we do what we do: the people we serve. Surrounding our customers are the people who provide support to them on a daily basis. The next circle are the administrative staff who support our Direct Support Professionals. And lastly, in the outer ring are the CEO and Board members of Kaposia who set strategic direction and determine use of resources in support of the administration.
After decades of helping people with disabilities become included in the general workforce, Kaposia reviewed our overall success rate and found something lacking. Over a five-year period, we had 99 new customers access our services. During that time, we found 105 jobs for these 99 people. Unfortunately, only 50 of those 99 got the 105 jobs. How could this be, we asked? We determined that our process was missing something that would help us work with one person at a time.
We chose to adopt a new process: Discovering Your Personal Genius (DPG), which had been created by Griffin/Hammis Associates. DPG did many of the things we had always done: identify skills and interests, consider learning styles, ensure the right environment for success. But it notably added the job seeker’s social network to the process. In doing so, we no longer exclusively utilized the job developer’s social network in identifying a job, and subsequently making a job match based on a subjective decision about who was the best match. Now, we utilized the job seeker’s social network to identify people who had some connection to the person, and then conducted informational interviews to help further build the social network and ultimately identify possible opportunities that were outside the typical job procurement process.
By using DPG, we now found jobs for people regardless of perceived support needs.
After the full implementation of DPG, we found that our job retention rate after one year had risen to nearly 90%. This was significantly higher than using traditional job development. In addition we are working to facilitate many more customized jobs than previously, and individuals are no longer waiting as long to find meaningful work. Nearly half of all job seekers find jobs within six months of beginning the process and 75% are within nine months.
Across the country, the Employment First movement is effecting change for people with disabilities who want to work. In Minnesota, over 3000 people have raised their hands and said they want competitive integrated employment. How are we going to manage the doubling of employment outcomes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities? By investing in listening to the people when they tell us they want something different. By investing in the services people are telling us they want. And lastly, by implementing a funding system that rewards these services.