by Kevin Dierks, Therap Services
The workforce challenges facing employers these days are perhaps more complex than at any other time in recent history. We know from experience that these challenges tend to disproportionately affect people with disabilities, however there are also indications some of these challenges may provide opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The pursuit of employment outcomes is set against a context of worker shortages reported across the country while individuals with I/DD are seeking paid, integrated work. Employers may not even be aware of the dedication and skills these individuals can bring to the workforce.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people with disabilities suddenly became essential workers and, like their coworkers without disabilities, bravely stepped up to support their communities in a time of need. Additionally, opportunities for remote and “gig” work have never been greater and have fostered new thinking around where work happens, which also creates new opportunities for those who benefit from non-traditional employment.
For these and many other reasons, there has never been a better environment to improve your organization’s position to help people with disabilities find employment through quality services and creative supports, including the expansion of Employment First.
To this day, a critical priority for The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is to invest in systems change efforts that result in increased community-based, integrated employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities. This priority reflects growing support for a national movement called Employment First, a framework for systems change that is centered on the premise that all people, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life.
Under this approach, publicly financed systems are urged to align policies, service delivery practices and reimbursement structures to commit to integrated employment as the priority option with respect to the use of publicly financed day and employment services for youth and adults with significant disabilities. ODEP defines integrated employment as "work paid directly by employers at the greater of minimum or prevailing wages with commensurate benefits, occurring in a typical work setting where the employee with a disability interacts or has the opportunity to interact continuously with co-workers without disabilities, has an opportunity for advancement and job mobility, and is preferably engaged full-time." Most states have now formally committed to the Employment First framework through either official executive proclamation or formal legislative action.
Employment First policies, although not always consistently applied, have identified that many individuals with disabilities want to work, and that the only barriers are proper supports plus equal treatment and access. These policies have paralleled an increase in access to employment services and supports, and over the last decade, in most cases, have correlated with increased access to funding for these services .
Therap understands the inherent challenges of running a business (nonprofit or otherwise) trying to navigate the different funding sources, regulations, employer environments and cultures. To assist these businesses and providers, Therap has created a solution that not only reflects our commitment to helping people with disabilities accomplish their goals, but also helps the organizations that support these Individuals rise above compliance and run great organizations. Therap is committed to Employment First.
Agencies providing employment services are there for every step of the individual’s employment journey. This pathway has many steps from creating individualized career development plans, job discovery, applications and interviews all the way through to job placement. Therap’s Employment History documentation module is available to support these agencies with these services.
The module process starts with building and maintaining the organization’s employer database which includes:
- Employer’s contact person and information.
- Job(s) offered.
- Job availability.
- Any contact/interactions the agency has had with the employer.
Employment specialists have real-time access to what jobs are open or available. Organizations can track and monitor communication with employers and potential employers to manage these important relationships.
Person-centered approaches are core to Therap and reflected in Therap’s Individual Service Program (ISP) to assist individuals in acquiring, strengthening and retaining the skills necessary to gain and improve their job skills at every phase of the employment journey. Individual progress and agency performance on outcomes/goals are tracked via data-driven reporting tools.
Therap’s Employment History module ensures organizations can track and meet all their funding and reporting requirements without losing track of the individual focus on supporting a real person with their real life. The application tool allows providers to track submitted applications and interviews for clients. The Milestone tool allows you to track, maintain and file milestones and invoices per participant. The Job Detail tool allows agencies to track participants' jobs including, but not limited to, benefits, wages, schedule, support needed and hours worked.
Therap is dedicated to ensuring that all agencies are able to commit to the American with Disabilities Act and their states' Employment First initiatives. Therap is constantly striving to be the most comprehensive documentation solution for our agencies to support Individuals. If you’d like to learn more about Therap’s Employment First tools and contact your local representative, click here.
Kevin Dierks is a Regional Director with Therap Services. He can be reached at 808.207.5079 or [email protected].