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Employment and Employment-Related Services

Preparing for Work

For many people, work is an important and rewarding experience that provides a sense of purpose and of contributing to society, as well as purchasing power. Learning about work throughout childhood allows students to think, explore, and dream about the various options available to them. At different stages in life, students will work at different levels to help prepare them for employment during adult life: Pre-school

Even before students start school, parents can talk to them about the jobs of the community members around them. By pointing out neighborhood employees (e.g., "There is the fire/police station. There is the grocery store. What kinds of people work in those places? What do they do?"), parents can begin to impart an awareness and appreciation of work.

Elementary School

In elementary school, teachers can continue the work parents began (while parents continue at home). For every curriculum area, applications can be made to various jobs. Furthermore, students can become familiar with different jobs during field trips and outings.

Middle/Junior High School

As students enter junior high, they often find part-time jobs after school and on weekends. Alternatively, they could explore jobs in and around the school to see what they might enjoy. They could work in the office or school store, or spend time with various staff members observing. Students should be encouraged to start thinking about work and the types of jobs that they might want to try.

High School

During high school, students can begin to articulate their own preferences and choices about what they want to do after high schoolif they want to go to college or a vocational training program, or where they might like to work. Students should continue to work at part-time jobs after school and on weekends. Additionally, the student may want to take part in a vocational course or program, if available at his/her school, to earn high school credit for jobs during school hours.

Post-High School Period

Some students remain in school beyond the age that most students graduate (ages 19-21). During these years, if a student is not enrolling in any post-secondary institutions, the focus should be on preparing for adult life through real experience in the community. For employment, this may mean that a student spends a good deal of his/her school time at actual jobs in the community getting on-site job training from education professionals. Job sites should be chosen based on student choice as well as the potential to continue employment after leaving school, proximity to the individual's home, and transportation availability. Timelines for fading school involvement should be clearly delineated in the ITP.

Skills that students should have developed by the time they leave school include: resume writing, interviewing, how to dress for work/interviews, physical stamina, promptness, problem solving, personal hygiene, following directions or demonstrations, accepting criticism, completing tasks independently and cooperatively, developing social relationships, and understanding how job accommodations can assist them.


In-School Work Experience

A great opportunity to take advantage of all kinds of experiences and work situations can happen while students are still in school. This might include:  


Job Options

Thousands of different jobs exist in countless locations. The student's challenge is to find a job where both the needs of the employer and the skills of the employee match. Several options are available to individuals with disabilities. Some are the same as those for individuals without disabilities while others have been designed especially to support individuals with disabilities in integrated work settings. Some options are: Of course, because most options exist within Inclusive Work Situations and because these are the options that all individuals (not just those with disabilities) have, students should ideally to work toward that goal. Unfortunately, a discrepancy often exists between what services should be available (because they have been shown to be effective and to raise the quality of life for individuals) and what services actually are offered. If current employment needs are going to be met, individuals may need to go beyond existing services. Creating new services tailored to the needs of the individual may take a lot of hard work on the part of an individual and his/her family and school, but it will pay off in the end.

Inclusive Work Situations

Inclusive work situations describe employment options that are generally the same or similar to the options of others in the community. Getting involved in inclusive work settings can sometimes require more effort in the beginning, but the payback may be well worth the extra time, effort, and resources. For information about funding inclusive employment please refer to Appendix IV: Funding Sources for Community-Based Supported Employment.


Just Regular Old Employment

"Just regular old employment" is work where the employee is hired and supervised directly by an employer. Workers earn a salary or wages for work completed. The following steps are typical for those individuals who just want to "go out and get a job."

Support for Employment

Support for employment can be offered for any job one desires. In the past, people often selected jobs based on the type of support available at a specific location. New ways of looking at employment, as well as national civil rights legislation, now make it easier for individuals with disabilities to get the support they need at the job of their choosing. The amount and type of support provided varies according to the needs of the individual in any specific job and may consist any or all of the following:

Although these are different types of supports, they are not exclusive of one another. For example, an individual may need a specific type of desk on which to work (job accommodation), some assistance from co-workers in getting materials (natural support), and some initial instruction based on a careful task analysis (external support).

External Supports

External supports are often provided, in the form of Supported Employment or Supported Work, from outside agencies (e.g., state agencies). Supported Employment is defined as competitive, paid work in a community-based work setting in which the employee receives ongoing support from an employment training specialist, job coach, or vocational instructor. Supported Work refers to the same type of job, but in a situation where the employee will not need long-term support. In both situations, the type and amount of support an individual receives varies according to the needs of the individual.

Although some individuals may need ongoing support, the ideal is to be able to phase out the external supports (those of the employment vendor or school) or utilize them only as necessary (e.g., each time an individual begins a new job, if necessary). If ongoing supports are necessary, they may include having a job coach or job developer who may initially assist an individual to get a job, learn what is expected at the job, and access any necessary accommodations. External supports should always begin with the idea that eventually they will cease. Even when ongoing supports are warranted, the goal should be to develop the most natural ways to provide support.

Natural Supports

Natural supports exist in many workplaces, usually in the form of supportive supervisors and co-workers or supportive practices and procedures. They may occur as implied (naturally!) or they may need a bit of planning to get started. Generally the employment training specialist (ETS) will examine the culture of the workplace to identify existing supports and specific people responsible for providing those supports. For example, a supervisor who provides training to new employees could also provide initial training to an employee with a disability. Or, if an individual needs to be reminded when it is time to move on to the next task, another employee, also changing tasks at the same time, might be able to remind him/her. With natural supports, the role of the ETS becomes one of facilitator rather than trainer or supervisor. The ETS facilitates supportive practice, which includes assisting an individual to develop and maintain relationships with co-workers, for example, arranging to switch an employee's lunch hour so he/she can eat at the same time as a friend.

Values in Employment Services 
  • Community-based, integrated work 
  • Meaningful work (work that someone else would get paid to do) 
  • Full participation 
  • Individual choice and decision making 
  • Right to take risks and learn through experience 
  • Flexible supports, not programs 
  • Careers, not just a job 

Job Accommodation

The ability to be successful in a job often hinges on the physical environment or set-up of the job. According to the ADA, an individual with a disability has the right to request reasonable accommodation for employment. Types of job accommodation may include:

The following charts outline some of the basic supported employment options.

Supported Employment Options 

Individual Placement Approach 

Key Features  
  • Employment Training Specialist (ETS) develops the community-based job, then places, trains, and supports a worker in a community job 
  • Individualized training and follow-along services are provided as necessary 
  • Amount and intensity of assistance varies according to the individual and fades over time 
  • Worker is on employer's payroll that usually includes pay and benefits comparable to what nondisabled co-workers receive 
  • Services include job development, vocational assessment, on-site training, advocacy, and follow-along supports 
Program Design Considerations  
  • Potential for competitive wages/benefits 
  • Potential for social integration 
  • Responsive to needs of employers 
  • Opportunity to develop and utilize natural supports should be well defined 
  • Individualized supports meet needs of worker and employer 
  • Flexible response to varied needs of wide range of individuals 
  • Access to any job in the community 
  • Initially very labor-intensive for agency staff 

Group Placements 

Key Features  


  • Group of workers placed in a business in a "host" company 
  • Training and supervision provided by ETS 
  • Expect that long-term supports will be provided permanently by ETS 
  • Contract established between company and service provider 
  • Wages paid to workers from service provider, usually based on rate of production 
Mobile Work Crews 
  • Approximately three to six+ workers with crew supervisor (ETS) work at job sites in community 
  • Perform contract work such as landscaping, janitorial work, maintenance, etc. 
  • Travel to work sites, typically by van 
  • Wages paid by employment vendor, usually based on rate of production 
Program Design Considerations 
  • Ability to place more individuals quickly into jobs in the community 
  • Capacity to provide permanent supports when needed 
  • Long-term commitment to provide primary supervision makes it difficult to individualize and fade supports 
  • Development of natural supports and social integration is difficult 
  • Typically offers low wages and few fringe benefits 
  • Though initially less staff-intensive, it can be less cost-effective in the long run since long-term commitment of ETS is required 
  • Typically offers limited range of job choices 

Small Business/Affirmative Industry Approach 

Key Features  
  • Employment vendor develops business enterprise and assumes responsibility for capital investment and ongoing operation 
  • Typically employs both workers with and without disabilities 
Program Design Considerations 
  • Can develop creative business options based on interests of consumers 
  • Is advantageous in rural areas where job options may be limited 
  • Can serve well people who require intensive supports 
  • Potential to redesign jobs and find creative ways to include all people in employment 
  • Typically low wages and few benefits 
  • Limited opportunities for community participation and social integration 
  • Potential for conflict between business operations and rehabilitation goals 
  • Starting and managing a business is often very time-intensive 
  • Two out of every three new businesses fail, often due to lack of financial resources, and most businesses lose money during the first three years of operation 

Segregated Work Situations

Just as there are options for individuals with disabilities to become part of the mainstream of the work force and community life, options have been developed solely for individuals with disabilities in separate, segregated work facilities. These options fall into three general categories:

Sheltered Workshops

Sheltered workshops are separate facilities where individuals with disabilities perform various kinds of "bench work," such as mass mailings, packaging, and assembly tasks. Pay is usually based on the amount of piecework done (i.e., on the number of products correctly completed) and depends on the availability of subcontracts with other companies.

The Readiness Approach to Employment 

The readiness approach typically places people with disabilities in segregated settings until they are "ready" to move into more integrated settings. Over the years, it has been shown that the waiting periods for moving from one program type to another are very long, that admission into any of the programs is based on availability of slots and not the skills of the individual, and that the number of people who actually progress out of this situation is very small. 

Day Activity Centers

Day activity centers are separate facilities where people with disabilities spend the day on a combination of work-related and non-work-related activities. Training in daily living skills and practice of vocational skills in a simulated work environment are usually offered (e.g., packaging/unpacking, sorting, assembly/disassembly, cleaning, cooking). Payment for completed work depends on the availability of subcontracted jobs and is based on a piecework rate, similar to a sheltered workshop.

Day Habilitation Centers

Day habilitation centers, or "Day Habs," are funded through federal Medicaid moneysan arrangement that does not allow people to perform paid vocational tasks. While some Day Habs offer worklike activities, these programs typically focus on therapies and skill training relating to daily living (e.g., hygiene, cooking, shopping, grooming) and recreation/leisure (e.g., arts and crafts, reading magazines).


U.S. Department of Labor Guidelines for School to Work Programs

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the basic federal minimum wage law that applies to certain types of business enterprises and individual employees who are engaged in some way in the production or movement of goods in interstate commerce. The FLSA applies where there is an employment relationship, one in which the employer receives the benefit for the work you perform. Where FLSA applies and there is an employment relationship, minimum wage and overtime must be paid. Child labor laws must be followed and certain records kept. Check what the current minimum wage is and acertain that overtime is paid after 40 hours a week.

Subminimum wage certificates can be obtained by employers for: 1) full-time students in retail, agriculture, and institutions of higher education, and 2) workers whose disabilities impair their job performance. School-work experience programs that pay wages can also apply for subminimum certificates.

FLSA does not apply to students who are trainees. Whether trainees/students are employees of an employer under FLSA will depend upon all of the circumstances surrounding their activities on the premises of the employer. If all six of the following criteria apply, the trainees/students are not employees under the definition of FLSA:

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school.
  2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees/students.
  3. The trainees/students do not displace regular employees but work under their close observation.
  4. The employer who provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees/students, and on occasion the employer's operations may be impeded.
  5. The trainees/students are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
  6. The employer and the trainees/students understand that the trainees/students are not entitled to wages for training time.
Be extremely cautious labeling people as "volunteers." Check any unpaid proposal with the Department of Labor. For more information on FLSA, subminimum wage certificates, school-related work programs, community-based vocational education programs, and school-to-work transition programs, contact: Margaret MacDonald at the Department of Labor, Boston office, at (617) 565-2095.

Have You Thought About This?

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