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ODEP - Office of Disability Employment Policy

Disability Employment Policy Resources by Topic

Employment First

A critical priority for the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), is to invest in systems change efforts that result in increased community-based, integrated employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities. This priority reflects growing support for a national movement called Employment First, a framework for systems change that is centered on the premise that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in integrated employment and community life.

Under this approach, publicly-financed systems are urged to align policies, service delivery practices, and reimbursement structures to commit to integrated employment as the priority option with respect to the use of publicly-financed day and employment services for youth and adults with significant disabilities. ODEP defines integrated employment as work paid directly by employers at the greater of minimum or prevailing wages with commensurate benefits, occurring in a typical work setting where the employee with a disability interacts or has the opportunity to interact continuously with co-workers without disabilities, has an opportunity for advancement and job mobility, and is preferably engaged full-time. Many states have formally committed to the Employment First framework through official executive proclamation or formal legislative action.

ODEP recognizes that many states desire to align their efforts to support individuals with disabilities toward an Employment First approach, but may not yet possess the capacity, experience or technical resources necessary to lead and facilitate such change. To address this need, ODEP has initiated the Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program (EFSLMP), a cross-disability, cross-systems change initiative. EFSLMP is providing a platform for multi-disciplinary state teams to focus on implementing the Employment First approach with fidelity through the alignment of policies, coordination of resources, updating of service delivery models, to facilitate increased integrated employment options for people with the most significant disabilities.

Objectives of the EFSLMP

The objectives of the EFSLMP are to:

  • Provide mentoring, intensive technical assistance (TA) and training from a national pool of subject matter experts and peer mentors to core states as they transform existing policies, service delivery systems, and reimbursement structures to reflect an Employment First approach;
  • Facilitate virtual training and knowledge translation on effective practices;
  • Facilitate dialogue on shared experiences related to effectuating Employment First policies and practice;
  • Link participating states with current Federal initiatives that are focused on promoting state-level systems-change conducive to Employment First objectives; and
  • Evaluate the impacts of the investments in state Employment First systems change efforts over time to identify common challenges faced by State governments and validate innovative strategies and effective practices that lead to the successful implementation of Employment First objectives.

EFSLMP — Provision of Intensive Technical Assistance to Core States

Through an application process, states have an opportunity to become an EFSLMP Core State. Core states receive a combination of onsite and virtual technical assistance in the following areas:

  • Strategic Guidance on policy/funding reform, and training on effective practices from a pool of national subject matter experts.
  • Practice & Policy Reform: policy analysis; strategic planning; rate restructuring and resource braiding; service delivery coordination; cross-agency collaboration; and provider contract reform.
  • Provider Transformation: vision/mission statement drafting; staff restructuring/decentralization; financial diversification; executive leadership mentoring; communications/marketing; and performance benchmarking.
  • Capacity Building: training and ongoing coaching supports for front-line direct support professionals and management in the use and successful implementation of evidence-based effective practices.
  • Peer-to-peer mentoring: access to peer experts from other state governments who have demonstrated success in implementing one or more key components of an Employment First is a critical ingredient to the EFSLMP model.

EFSLMP's National Employment First Community of Practice

In addition to the intensive technical assistance and training being offered to the EFSLMP core states, ODEP has launched an Employment First Community of Practice (CoP), which is open to state Employment First teams. Thirty-three state teams are currently participating in the EFSLMP Community of Practice, although it is open to all fifty states.

The EFSLMP Community of Practice provides a variety of services to support state Employment First teams, including:

  • Monthly Webinars: ODEP hosts monthly educational presentations on a variety of Employment First topics facilitated by national leaders in the field of systems reform.
  • Access to ePolicyWorks Virtual Workspace: ODEP's ePolicyWorks provides a free virtual policy workspace for all EFSLMP CoP participating states, along with an array of resources and services to encourage virtual communications and policy work in a safe and user-friendly environment.
  • Access to Technical Assistance Resources and Policy Tools Developed through ODEP's EFSLMP: A variety of technical assistance resources and policy tools are available to provide additional support at no cost to participating CoP states.

Latest News on ODEP's EFSLMP

  • Technical Brief #1: Connecting the Dots: Using Federal Policy to Promote Employment First Systems-Change Efforts
  • Technical Brief #2: Federal Legal Framework that Supports Competitive, Integrated Employment Outcomes of Youth and Adults with Significant Disabilities
  • Technical Brief #3: Criteria for Performance Excellence in Employment First State Systems Change & Provider Transformation
  • Technical Brief #4: Federal Resources Available to Support State Employment First Efforts
  • Letter to Governors on Employment First — On July 22, 2015, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, and Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed letters to the Governors of States and U.S. territories urging them to adopt policies and practices that promote the employment of people with significant disabilities in integrated settings earning at or above the minimum wage.
  • ODEP Hosts 2nd National Employment First Conference
  • See Brief Overview of ODEP's EFSLMP (PDF)
  • Learn more about ODEP's Integrated Employment Toolkit, which offers information on the topic for a variety of audiences and a video highlighting integrated employment success stories
  • Learn more about Customized Employment, an individualized approach to job development that can assist in advancing integrated employment
  • ACL/ODEP Memorandum of Agreement — Building on a partnership that started in 2012, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and the Administration for Community Living (ACL) signed a new memorandum of agreement (MOA) on September 11, 2015. Under the agreement ODEP and ACL will collaborate to support states’ efforts to improve Employment First opportunities for people with disabilities.

Join  ODEP's E1st Community of Practice

National Employment First Policy & Data Platform

The National Employment First Policy & Data Platform, funded by ODEP and housed on the National LEAD Center’s website, provides a unique comprehensive resource for policy-makers, researchers, and external stakeholders to learn about national trends and state Employment First systems-change activities focused on increasing competitive, integrated employment outcomes of individuals with disabilities, including but not limited to:

  • Downloading outcome data across respective Federally-funded systems (education, I/DD adult services, Medicaid, mental health, vocational rehabilitation, wage & hour, workforce investment, AbilityOne, and others) at an individual state level as well as the ability to compare data from up to three states at a time;
  • Reviewing comprehensive profiles for each individual state with respect to relevant legislation, policies, gubernatorial actions, funding initiatives, pilots, and strategic partnerships going on in each state as it relates to increasing competitive, integrated employment options for individuals with disabilities; and
  • Conducting queries to ascertain all policies/actions around a specific topic based on a customized search process.