Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Facilitating Natural Supports in the Workplace: Strategies for Support Consultants

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Facilitating Natural Supports in the Workplace: Strategies for Support Consultants

Article excerpt

By and large, supported employment services that emphasize individual rather than group placements have followed a particular program model widely known as the job coach model. In fact, the terms "job coaching" and "supported employment" have become so closely linked that many people are unaware that job coaching predated the supported employment movement by many years (e.g. Doanne & Valenti, 1977).

In the job coach model, a rehabilitation agency staff person known as a job coach, job trainer, or employment specialist provides support services to employees with severe disabilities at community job sites. Job coaching includes (a) analyzing the task to be performed, (b) systematically teaching each element of the task, (c) collecting data, and (d) gradually fading to the cues and reinforcers in the natural setting. Job coaches may also teach job-related social skills and perform additional functions, including some that take place away from the employment site (Wehman & Melia, 1985). Job coaching has been an integral part of early supported employment demonstration projects (Boles, Bellamy, Horner, & Mank, 1984; Revell, Wehman, & Arnold, 1985) and has been refined and expanded in numerous publications and training manuals (e.g., Moon, Goodall, Barcus, & Brooke, 1986).

Impressive demonstrations of the effectiveness of the job coach model as compared with previous employment services available to people with severe disabilities have, however been accompanied by a recognition that external intervention by human service personnel alone is insufficient as a source of community employment support. This recognition has resulted from at least three developments.

First, the importance of personnel within the natural environment has been increasingly recognized. In one of the earliest descriptions of what is now known as supported employment, Wehman (1976) recommended the inclusion of co-workers in the process of training and fading. Reports of non-sheltered vocational training of employees with severe disabilities have included co-workers and supervisors as partners in the training process (e.g., Rusch & Mechetti, 1981). Recently, strategies for including co-workers more fully and earlier have been recommended and documented (Shafer, 1986; Shafer, Tait, Keen, & Jesiolowski, 1989).

Second, since integration is one of the primary components of supported employment, facilitating integration has been one of the functions assigned to job coaches. But social integration has not always accompanied physical placement in natural settings, whether vocational, residential or educational. In a review of existing supported employment literature, Rusch, Chadsey-Rusch, and Johnson (1989) noted that interactions between work trainees and nonhandicapped personnel are consistently reported far more often with staff trainers than with co-workers. Chadsey-Rusch, Gonzalez, and Tines (1987) found that workers with mental retardation were less likely to engage in non-work related social interactions than their non-disabled co-workers.

The facilitation of integration function of job coaches has received far less attention in the literature than has skills training. Recent evidence suggests that job coaching may, in some instances, actually restrict social integration. A participant-observation study of supported employment found that job coaches sometimes brought a human service perspective and a narrow job task focus to work settings and were unaware of, or ignored, the wider "culture" of workplaces (Hagner, 1989). Further, job coach training can impede the natural social processes by which experienced employees teach "the ropes" to new employees and socialize them into the culture of the setting, and can project the message that some special expertise is required to interact with employees with severe disabilities. Such processes tend to put social distance between supported employees and their fellow employees. …

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