Supported Competitive Employment: Using Coworkers to Assist Follow-Along Efforts

Article excerpt

Supported Competitive Employment: Using Coworkers to Assist Follow-Along Efforts

The authorization of supported employment services by the Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 (P.L. 99-319) identified three defining aspects of these services. First, supported employment is defined by employment of 20 hours or more per week. Second, supported employment is characterized by the placement of individuals in employment settings where no more than eight other individuals with dis-abilities are also present. Third, and most importantly, supported employment is characterized by the provision of continued follow-along services to consumers at their place of employment at least twice monthly (Federal Register, November 18, 1987).

The provision of these follow-along services is most essential in assuring the long-term employment of individuals for whom competitive employment has traditionally been denied or unsuccessful. Follow-along occurs after consumers have been placed and trained on their jobs by employment specialists and have become stabilized in their employment (Moon, Goodall, Barcus, & Brooke, 1986; Wehman & Kregel, 1985). During the follow-along process, the employment specialist may be called upon to deal with a variety of issues, ranging from designing and implementing behavior modification programs to performing more typical case management functions. No doubt, activities such as these typically require the analytical skills and clinical precision of a highly trained individual. Recently, however, much has been written regarding the potential use of non-disabled coworkers to provide additional support and assistance to supported employment consumers (Rusch, 1983; Rusch & Mithaug, 1980; Rusch & Schutz, 1981; Shafer, 1986; Wehman, 1981; Wilcox & Bellamy, 1982).

While the potential use of coworkers in supported employment has been suggested, a paucity of empirical literature is currently available that demonstrates the effective utilization of these individuals in supported employment. In the only systematic evaluation of a coworker-mediated intervention reported to date, Rusch and his colleagues (Rusch, Weithers, Menchetti, & Schutz, 1980) utilized three coworkers to reduce the frequency of topic repetitions by a worker with mental retardation. The coworkers were instructed to inform the subject each time he repeated a statement that was previously made. The results of that investigation provided preliminary evidence that coworkers could be used to support the behavioral change efforts of employment specialists in supported employment settings.

In this article, a series of case studies demonstrating various strategies using the assistance of non-disabled coworkers in supported employment are reported. The case studies reported in this article provide a qualitative exploration into the use of coworker assisted intervention efforts and as such, lack the systematic data collection or rigorous research design that typically accompanies reports of this nature. It is anticipated that these case studies will provide the practitioner of supported employment with suggested methods for using coworkers to support and maintain behavioral changes achieved with supported employment consumers. Case Study #1

Consumer and Setting

Tony is a 28-year-old man who was diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded. His latest school psychological evaluation (1976) estimated his IQ at 41 (WAIS). A recent audiological evaluation indicates that Tony has a severe hearing loss. Tony is quite independent in a variety of life domains. He lives in his own apartment and is proficient in using the public bus system. Tony receives a good deal of support from his mother, especially in the areas of financial management and health care. He is well equipped to function within the social fabric of his community, yet his knowledge of the more complex aspects of society are limited due to his inability to read, write, or use functional math. …