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Defining Employment First

Employment First is a national systems-change framework centered on the premise that all individuals, including those individuals with the most significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE) and community life. Under this approach, publicly-financed systems are urged to align policies, regulatory guidance, and reimbursement structures to commit to CIE as the priority option with respect to the use of publicly-financed day and employment services for youth and adults with significant disabilities.

Many states have formally committed to the Employment First framework through official executive proclamation or formal legislative action.

Employment First Community of Practice

The Employment First Community of Practice (CoP) Webinar Series provides the opportunity to hear from nationally recognized experts on innovative practices being used across the country to advance Employment First. CoP webinars take place on the second Wednesday of each month and topics include: 

  • Capacity Building, Provider Transformation,
  • School-to-Work Transition,
  • Employer Engagement, and
  • Policy/Funding Alignment.

Join the CoP List Serve

The CoP list serve currently has over 2,700 subscribers. Subscribers have access to federal disability employment policy briefs and announcements. Subscribers also receive “Save the Date” announcements for upcoming CoP webinars. Click here to join.

CoP Webinar Learning Center

ODEP has hosted over 100 CoP webinars since 2012. The CoP Learning Center consists of selected webinars that are often helpful to provider organizations and state and local governments as they move toward an Employment First approach. The webinars are organized into six topic areas and updated periodically.

Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program

ODEP began the Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program (EFSLMP) in 2012 in response to states’ request for assistance on how to support individuals with significant disabilities in CIE. Over the 13 years it has been active, ODEP has supported 24 states in their strategic efforts to increase CIE for individuals with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities. The EFSLMP inspired selected states to facilitate policy reform and fully implement the Employment First approach with funding alignment, service coordination, and capacity building across state government agencies and external stakeholders which are all vital to promoting CIE options for individuals with significant disabilities.

The Evolution of EFSLMP

EFSLMP laid the foundations for existing ODEP initiatives, such as the National Expansion of Employment Opportunities Network (NEON) and the Advancing State Policy Integration for Recovery and Employment (ASPIRE) initiatives.

EFSLMP Resources

  • E1st State Transformation Guide - In order to support states in their Employment First and systems change efforts, ODEP has identified 10 Critical Areas to Increase CIE. This guide helps states make holistic systems change by assisting in developing and implementing strategies in each of these 10 Critical Areas. ODEP’s CIE webpage has specific resources for each critical area.
  • EFSLMP Federal Briefings - On August 8 and 9, 2018, the Office of Disability Employment Policy hosted 15 federal offices, including representatives from the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Justice, the National Council on Disability, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Social Security Administration, to learn about and discuss the Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program.
  • Connecting the Dots: Using Federal Policy to Promote Employment First Systems-Change Efforts – This brief provides a robust summary and overview of public policy, regulations, rules, and informational bulletins that support employment outcomes and Employment First for youth and adults with disabilities.
  • Federal Legal Framework that Supports Competitive, Integrated Employment Outcomes of Youth and Adults with Significant Disabilities - This brief highlights various legal actions by federal enforcement agencies that have significant implications for how states prioritize and deliver services for individuals with disabilities. These actions relate to the organization, financing, and provision of employment and long-term services and supports consistent with an Employment First framework.
  • Criteria for Performance Excellence in Employment First State Systems Change & Provider Transformation – This brief provides guidance to states involved in systems change efforts aimed at improving CIE outcomes of youth and adults with disabilities. A blended approach of top-down systems-change strategies, combined with community-based capacity building activities initiated by key stakeholders, is critical to the successful implementation of an Employment First strategic framework.
  • Federal Resources Available to Support State Employment First Efforts - This brief provides state governments and external stakeholders with information about available Federal funding resources and technical assistance available to further state Employment First systems change efforts.