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Introduction - The Impact of Supported Employment for People with Significant Disabilities: Preliminary Findings from the National Supported Employment Consortium

The National Supported Employment Consortium (SEC) for the competitive employment of people with significant disabilities is designed to critically evaluate supported employment programs nationally and to provide technical assistance on exemplary programs and practices to state and local agencies. The SEC was formed in response to the January 31, 1997 Request for Proposals issued by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) for a National Scope Project on supported employment to:

Determine what has been learned from community-based and statewide systems change projects supported by RSA and other agencies and organizations in recent years;

Identify and assess new exemplary supported employment models and practices that have emerged from these projects; and

Provide technical assistance to States and other provider agencies based on these new findings.

The SEC project comes at a critical point in the development of supported employment. Since 1985, the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) has funded fifty-five, 3-5 year, grants to develop state systems for supported employment services along with several community-based demonstration projects. There are many indications that these grants helped supported employment become a popular and effective method for assisting individuals with significant disabilities achieve a competitive level of community integrated employment. There are, however, frequent disparities across states and communities in the quality, effectiveness, and accessibility of employment opportunities and support services for people with the most significant disabilities. Outcomes for supported employment participants range from career oriented positions reflecting personal choice and pay well above minimum wage to poor quality jobs on the fringe of the competitive labor market paying marginal wages. In truth, the vast majority of the population for whom supported employment was originally targeted remains chronically unemployed.

This disparity in employment outcomes and continued high unemployment among people with the most significant disabilities point to many important questions. What are the best practices in the areas of consumer self-determination, employer partnerships, and work place supports that encourage meaningful employment outcomes? What are the identifiable and replicable policies and practices of state systems that routinely demonstrate the ability to accommodate the employment service and support needs of a full range of people with significant disabilities? How can Personal Assistance Services at the work site be funded effectively to support those who need these services to achieve their competitive employment goals? What are the funding designs that strike an effective balance in addressing the interests and needs of supported employment service recepients, funders, and providers? How can the continued challenge of inconsistent funding and provision of extended employment services be met, and what steps are needed to effectively tap underutilized funding sources for supported employment services such as the Home and Community Based Medicaid Waiver?

The dual purpose of the National Supported Employment Consortium is to address these and related questions through a variety of evaluation studies and to disseminate widely the results of the studies and information on exemplary practices. The SEC is administered by the Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Workplace Supports. Its membership includes the Indiana University Institute on Disability and Community, the Boston Children's Hospital Institute for Community Inclusion, Transcen Incorporated, Indiana University/ Purdue University Indianapolis, and the University of Montana Rural Institute on Disabilities, along with a number of additional national experts. Since its inception October 1, 1997, the SEC has initiated a variety of evaluation studies, conducted a series of national training sessions and published a variety of newsletters on best practices, sponsored a Summer Institute where direct service staff received intensive training, initiated a web-based certificate course that provides interactive in-service training, worked hand-in-hand with rural communities to develop supported employment opportunities, and provided a wide variety of prescriptive technical assistance that matched national experts with state and community level requests for assistance.

The fifteen papers contained in this current monograph reflect the breadth and depth of the SEC's evaluation activities and its intent to frame results in a practical, best practice oriented viewpoint. The papers in the monograph address supported employment issues and practices in four areas. First, in the area of current trends and future directions, Paul Wehman and John Bricout identify and analyze the full range of employment supports needed by persons with the most significant disabilities. Jeanne Novak and her co-authors describe the national trend towards more results based funding of supported employment and provide numerous recommendations for agencies considering this funding approach. Valerie Brooke and her co-authors describe the implementation of a results based funding design in Alabama that incorporated intensive in-service training on quality supported employment services. Second, in the area of improving state level implementation, Martha McGaughey and David Mank analyze the evidence of systems change in supported employment to date and the factors influencing that change. Gary Bond and his research team describe the initial results of their research efforts targeted at designing a quality of supported employment implementation scale that will help generate more meaningful employment outcomes. Susan Foley and her co-authors evaluate state-level interagency collaborative efforts in supported employment with a focus on exemplary practices.

In the area of evaluating policy initiatives influencing supported employment, Martha McGaughey and David Mank describe the policy framework within which systems change takes place, and Jeanne Novak and her co-authors identify the many public initiatives that are influencing the move to more results based funding designs. Finally, in the critical area of improving supported employment services and outcomes, Katherine Inge and her co-authors evaluate the results of a demonstration project that assisted individuals with very significant physical disabilities work competitively. The paper offers a number of best practice recommendations. Ed Turner and his co-authors provide insight into the challenges faced in securing and directing Personal Assistance Services by individuals who need this support to work competitively. Cary Griffin evaluates the factors influencing the provision of supported employment in rural areas and provides numerous best practice recommendations for improving the quality and effectiveness of these services. Darlene Unger reports on the results of research on how employers view workplace supports. Pat Rogan and her co-authors describe a qualitative research effort to evaluate workplace supports in practice with emphasis on maximizing supports available at the job site, and Paul Wehman and John Bricout conclude the monograph by discussing the blending of practices identified as natural supports into a workplace supports model of supported employment services.

This first monograph published by the National Supported Employment Consortium describes the initial set of results from a wide variety of evaluation studies that are works in progress. The monograph's range of authors and topics reflects the comprehensive nature of the SEC evaluation effort. The SEC is designed to provide a steady flow of information on critical issues and best practices, and future dissemination efforts will continue to use a variety of written, web-based, and face-to-face methods to assure wide dissemination of information on SEC evaluation efforts.


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