Employment First - Changing Lives through Integrated Employment
Rhode Island is one of 46 states with some type of effort focused on Employment First. At least 19 Employment First states (including RI) have an official state policy: that employment in the community is the first and preferred service option for people with disabilities. Employment First promotes community-based, integrated employment as the first option for employment services for individuals living with a disability. Rhode Island is part of the national movement toward a greater emphasis on community employment that echoes a general shift toward services designed to integrate individuals with disabilities into their communities, providing them with the same opportunities and responsibilities as all citizens.
For an overview of Employment First, read the APSE Employment First Statement.
The Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE), founded in 1988, is the only national organization with an exclusive focus on integrated employment and career advancement opportunities for individuals with disabilities. APSE is a 3,000+ and growing national non-profit membership organization with chapters in 38 states and the District of Columbia. Members include individuals with disabilities, families, disability professionals, and businesses.
Working Towards Alignment and a Shared Strategy
Recently, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals (BHDDH) and the Office of Rehabilitative Services (ORS) jointly held an all-day conference at Save the Bay facilitated by the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center (WINTAC). Attending the conference were the Executive Directors of many DD providers, Administrators from ORS, Vocational Resource Counselors, and BHDDH Administrators and staff. The focus of the day came out of the results of a survey that went out to providers, ORS, and BHDDH administration and staff in early May.
WINTAC explained the survey's results to underscore the needs of the providers to meet the demands of the Department of Justice (DOJ) Consent Decree, and provide a base for discussion. The meeting's objectives were to:
- Create greater mutual understanding of competitive integrated employment
- Recognize partner progress
- Review alignment and differing business models
- Create collaborative solutions.
The WINTAC facilitators, Paula Pottenger, Jeanne Miller, and Ron Vessell came from the University of Arkansas’s “Center for the Utilization of Rehabilitation Resources for Education, Networking, Training and Service” program (also known as CURRENTS). They assisted the group in identifying the State's top priorities and establish how best to align resources and share ideas and strategies towards Employment First Initiatives and Consent Decree requirements. It was a productive discussion.
Next steps will include some further training and technical assistance in the areas of employer engagement, supported employment (including customized employment and self-employment), as well as job driven strategies