Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

How Customized Employment Can Improve Outcomes for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

How Customized Employment Can Improve Outcomes for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

Article excerpt

The purpose of customized employment (CE) is to expand and maximize the range of job options for adults with ID and offer an alternative to segregated employment in sheltered workshops. CE can take the form of job carving, resource ownership and self-employment. all three options enable adults with ID to increase their capacity for financial self-sufficiency

The purpose of this article is to examine the employment conditions facing adults with intellectual disabilities and then explain an alternative job placement system called customized employment. Customized employment involves discovering the job seeker's skills and interests and then negotiating with an employer to find the most suitable employment for this person. The outcomes of customized employment include job carving, resource ownership, and self-employment. The article concludes with a discussion of Project Search, a national program to train and employ adults with intellectual disabilities.

Approximately 8 million people, or 3% of Americans, have intellectual disabilities. The employment outcomes for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities remain poor. A recent study found that just 14.7% of such adults were engaged in paid, community-based employment. Yet just 28% of unemployed adults with disabilities who want to work have a job goal in their employment plans.

In addition, adults with intellectual disabilities who held paid, community-based jobs generally received low wages. Tom Heinz, founder of East Bay Innovations, said only half of employed adults with intellectual disabilities earned more than the minimum wage. Thus, even holding a paid job offered most adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities only limited opportunity for financial self-sufficiency and career advancement.

One study showed that most adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) who are currently participating in sheltered workshops would like to join the mainstream workforce. Of those adults, 63% wanted to work outside a sheltered workshop. In addition, 82% of adults with ID believed they had the capacity for community-based employment, including 45% with support and 37% without support.

The Discovery Process

Traditional employment methods try to place adults with disabilities into pre-selected job openings from employers. In contrast, customized employment (CE) offers an alternative and more effective method of helping adults with ID to improve their career outcomes. CE begins with a process of discovery that is designed to uncover the individual's skills, interests and talents. The job developer also assembles a team typically consisting of the individual, family, and sometimes advocates or teachers to aid in the discovery process. During discovery, the job developer observes and interviews the individual and his or her family in natural settings such as the home and work environments to learn more about him or her as a person. The job developer observes how the individual interacts in both familiar and unfamiliar settings. The job developer may also interview teachers, siblings, parents, support professionals, and neighbors.

The discovery process aims to identify three vocational themes that can provide possible sources of future employment. The themes are supposed to emerge naturally and gradually during discovery. Once the vocational themes are identified, then the job developer finds 20 local businesses that employ people in each of these three fields. The job developer brings the job candidate on informational interviews with prospective employers which are designed to gauge whether this type of work and social environment are appropriate for this individual. The goal at this stage is not to negotiate the creation of a job but, rather, to learn more about the types of businesses that might employ this job seeker. The purpose is also to clarify the job seeker's employment interests.

Once the job developer and job seeker have determined the types of positions and work environments that are suitable for the applicant, then the negotiation process with employers begins. …

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