Skip to page content
Office of Disability Employment Policy

Supported Employment for People with the Most Significant Disabilities

Supported employment is a program to assist people with the most significant disabilities to become and remain successfully and competitively employed in integrated workplace settings. Supported employment is targeted at people with the most significant disabilities for whom competitive employment has not traditionally occurred, has been interrupted or is intermittent because of the disability, or who, because of the severity of their disability, need intensive or extended support services to work competitively.

Increasingly, supported employment programs seek to identify jobs that provide wages above the minimum wage, fringe benefits and career potential. Supported employment programs not only develop jobs for people with the most significant disabilities, but also provide a qualified labor source for the business sector.

The most effective employment outcomes are achieved initially by using natural workplace supports in conjunction with agency-provided supports. Many of the agency supports can eventually be replaced by natural supports in the work environment, similar to the ones that all employees receive.

Supported Employment Models

  • Individual Placement -Consumers obtain employment independently and then contact the supported employment providers to get assistance or support, as needed. 
  • Agency Supported -A rehabilitation or community services agency places the consumer in a job and provides or facilitates the ongoing support services needed to help assist him or her to retain the job.
  • Entrepreneurial -The consumer is supported by the rehabilitation or community services agency in getting the services and supports needed to successfully run his or her own business.

Definitions of Basic Supported Employment Terms

  • Supported services: Job development and placement; intensive job-site training; facilitation of natural supports; special skills training; supplementary assessment; contact with employers, parents, family members and advocacy organizations; teaching compensatory workplace strategies.
  • Extensive support services: Support services needed on an ongoing basis to support and maintain a person in competitive employment, provided at no cost to the employer.
  • Employment Specialist/Consultant (Job Coach): A person employed by a job training and placement organization serving people with disabilities who matches clients with jobs, provides necessary supports during the initial employment period and then facilitates the transition to natural workplace supports while reducing his or her role.
  • Natural supports: Support from supervisors and co-workers occurring in the workplace to assist employees with disabilities to perform their jobs, including supports already provided by employers for all employees. These natural supports may be both formal and informal, and include mentoring, supervision (ongoing feedback on job performance), training (learning a new job skill with a co-worker) and co-workers socializing with employees with disabilities at breaks or after work. The use of natural supports increases the integration and acceptance of an employee with a disability within the workplace.
  • Carving/job creation: The process of breaking down jobs into their key components and assigning them to employees based on efficient company operations and customization to meet the skills of the employee with a disability. This process results in either job restructuring or job creation.
  • Job development: Locating jobs for people with disabilities through networking with employers, businesses and community leaders. The use of Business Advisory Councils is an excellent way to develop contacts that lead to employment for people with disabilities.

Benefits to Employers

  • Qualified employees
  • On-the-job training resources
  • No-cost job placement services
  • Operations analysis
  • Post-employment follow-up
  • Technical assistance on workplace accommodations

Case Studies

Project EMPLOY, an Office of Disability Employment Policy program with strong support from the Society of Human Resources Management, promotes the employment of people with cognitive disabilities using a variety of techniques, including supported employment. Below are examples of successful Project EMPLOY placements involving the use of supported employment methods. In each case, the employment specialist located the employee's job, provided support services for a time, then facilitated the use of natural supports. The specialist remained available for resolution of new issues as they arose.

AMB

AMB, a real estate investment company based in San Francisco, had grown rapidly. AMB contacted WorkLink of TransCen, Inc., a local Project EMPLOY partner, for help in dealing with the increased workload. WorkLink's staff examined AMB's operating procedures and identified a number of areas where centralized administrative support would improve the company's efficiency and communication.

Working with AMB's staff, WorkLink created an administrative support position responsible for managing a central filing room for property purchase proposals and sending old files to storage. A young man who has a cognitive disability was hired for this position. He was responsible for collecting, filing, storing, logging and distributing submissions. This more centralized process allowed administrative assistants to spend less time on organizing and screening properties, thereby enabling them to devote their efforts to examining the properties AMB was potentially interested in purchasing.

Because of his successful work in Acquisitions, other departments requested assistance from this employee. Work-Link's staff worked with department managers to determine which tasks should be reassigned. A weekly schedule was developed, as well as a method of requesting assistance for random assignments (i.e., large copying projects, mailings or tasks that occurred intermittently). In one year, this clerical support position has grown from 20 to 40 hours a week, and the employee is now earning $18,000 a year and has full benefits.

Prudential Insurance Company of America

A young woman who has a cognitive disability has been an employee of The Prudential Insurance Company of America in Newark, NJ, since 1996. She was placed by Our House, Inc., Employment Services, a local Project EMPLOY partner. When she first joined Prudential, she was a part-time employee in the Comptroller's Department, where she was responsible for general typing, data entry, photocopying and mail delivery, as well as ordering supplies.

Since 1996, this employee has attended many training classes offered by Prudential and as a result was transferred to the Tax Division of the company. She has received promotions and is now a Senior Assistant, in a full-time position paying more than $24,000 annually, with full medical and vacation benefits. She has adjusted to new supervisors and their management styles and recently received a bonus for her efforts on a special project.

Additional Resources

  • Association for Persons in Supported Employment
    804-278-9187 (V)
  • International Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services
    410-730-7190 (V); 410-730-1723 (TTY)
  • Institute for Community Inclusion
    617-355-6506 (V); 617-355-6956 (TTY)
  • Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Supported Employment
    804-828-1851 (V); 804-828-2494 (TTY)
  • Indiana University, Institute for the Study of Developmental Disabilities
    812-855-6508 (V); 812-855-9396 (TTY)
  • University of Montana, Rural Institute
    406-243-2454 (V); 406-243-4200 (TTY)

This fact sheet was developed with assistance from Project EMPLOY and its local partners. 

This publication is available in alternate formats.

July 2001