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Office of Disability Employment Policy

ODEP - Office of Disability Employment Policy

Integrated Employment Toolkit

Advancing Integrated Employment in Washington State

Integrated employment refers to jobs held by people with disabilities in typical workplace settings where the majority of persons employed are not persons with disabilities, where they earn at least minimum wage, and where they are paid directly by the employer. These individuals may be in jobs without dedicated support, in jobs in which they are supported to learn and perform tasks that are associated with a standard job description, or in jobs where tasks and conditions of work are customized to match the characteristics of the worker and the needs of the employer.

Many states have resolved to implement policies that promote integrated employment with earnings at or above the minimum wage as the first option of service for individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. "Employment First" is the name adopted to reflect this policy initiative. The state of Washington is a notable example where policy and practice have merged to establish integrated employment as the primary goal for all persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities of working age.

Washington implemented its Working Age Adult Policy in 2006, the first Employment First" policy in the country. This policy was the culmination of over three decades of concerted activity to insure that persons with disabilities have quality of life through employment. In 2009, over 3,000 Washingtonians with developmental disabilities earned over $24 million in wages in integrated, individual community jobs (2010 Report on Employment in Washington State).

According to leaders in the state of Washington and independent reviews of state policy, there are four essential ingredients to generating these outcomes. They are: well articulated values, clear focus on employment at the local level, outcomes oriented funding, and investment in training and technical assistance.

Well articulated values

In the early 1980's the state published the County Guidelines, the first clear policy that formally established integrated employment as the primary outcome for people served in its Developmental Disabilities service system. Revised several times over the years, the Guidelines continue to state that programs and serves should presume that all people can work and that work outcomes are expected.

These values are grounded in the notions that people with disabilities should have the opportunities for inclusion in the community, typical lives, informed choice and self-determination, and economic improvement through employment in integrated jobs where employers pay them directly at or above minimum wage. Thus, although congregate work settings still exists in a few pockets in the state, they are phasing out. Integrated employment is clearly both the valued service option and preferred outcome.

"Integrated employment is the norm in Washington because it is wanted, it is expected, and it is nurtured."

— Chris Christian, Executive Director, Vadis, Inc., an employment service provider in King and Pierce Counties, Washington

Clear focus on employment at the local county level

Counties have long been established as the state's partner in the delivery of services. Although counties receive funds from the state Division of Developmental Disabilities with clear guidelines for authorizing service to eligible individuals, there is latitude for local flexibility and innovation in meeting the needs and addressing the circumstances of the local community.

Typically, the counties contract with local employment service providers to assist individuals find and retain employment. The providers are obligated to insure that individuals are gainfully employed or are working toward an employment plan and outcome. Some counties oversee a funding structure that pays providers for serving specific individuals using payment points for designated achieved benchmarks such as job placement and retention. Many pay within a range of service hours based on the individual's employment plan. If individuals of working age opt not to pursue employment, then an exception to policy is required to authorize services that do not focus on integrated employment.

"The County Guidelines plowed the ground for how our county contracts with employment service providers."

— Ray Jensen, Division Director, King County Developmental Disabilities Division

Outcomes oriented funding

The County Guidelines were designed to communicate a clear expectation for integrated employment service and employment outcomes. This expectation is built into both state and county funding contracts. Since integrated employment is seen as the preferred outcome, the funding of employment services comes with a requirement for reporting outcome data that reflects employment circumstances for each individual served, such as hours worked, wages, etc. The state mandates that the counties collect this data, and the counties in turn require it of their vendors. Collecting data on specific employment outcomes reinforces the focus of the County Guidelines on integrated employment.

In addition, there is a history of collaboration and shared funding between the state Divisions of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) that supports integrated employment service. The state was an early leader in defining the relationship between these two entities. DVR continues its role in funding evaluation, job development and placement, and early on-the-job training. DDD commits to funding any long term support necessary for mutual service recipients.

"The way people should think about employment service is how it relates to the economic independence of the people served. It should ultimately be about what people earn."

— Linda Rolfe, Director, Washington State Division of Developmental Disabilities

Investment in training and technical assistance

The state and counties share in the investment in making sure vendors and vendor staff are equipped to provide quality and effective service that supports integrated employment results. The state Division of Developmental Disabilities and many of the designated county developmental disabilities agencies contribute money from their respective budgets for this purpose. One statewide entity, the Washington Initiative on Supported Employment (W.i.S.e.), is given the primary responsibility for providing training and technical assistance to employment service providers throughout the state. W.i.S.e. is a non-profit organization that provides in-person and web-based training to service provider staff, delivers within-organization training and technical assistance to help agencies and their staff improve service delivery capacity, encourages innovation by developing demonstration projects, plans and coordinates an annual statewide training conference, and regularly convenes various partners for planning and collaboration in employment service delivery. These partners can include non-profit service providers, vocational rehabilitation personnel, county and state developmental disabilities agencies, schools, post-secondary education programs, One-Stop Career Centers, employers, families and self-advocates.

Another contribution to service improvement is the employment specialist training curriculum facilitated by Highline Community College in King County. Employment specialists from community employment service providers, school system staff, and other employment related programs enroll in prescribed classes, the successful completion of which leads to a credential certifying competence in integrated employment service. There is interest in expanding this curriculum to other communities in the state. An additional boost to service quality, as well as to the state agency collaboration described above, is provided by DVR which encourages its staff to participate in regional trainings and forums throughout the state.

"Our job is to promote equitable employment for people with developmental disabilities through innovation, training and technical assistance."

— Cesilee Coulson, Executive Director, W.i.S.e.

Washington State is committed to, by 2015, doubling the total of 3,000 jobs attained by people with developmental disabilities in 2009, according to the 2010 Report on Employment in Washington State. In spite of economic and government funding uncertainty, state agency leaders and developmental disabilities advocates are committed to achieve this standard and have outlined plans for: enhancing innovative job development; expanding training and technical assistance; using advances in technology for improving data systems, communication, and service delivery; focusing on school-to-work transition so that youth exit school with jobs; and strengthening its already well established collaborations between all stakeholders.