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Understanding Supported Employment

from the RRTC Supported Employment Staff Training Manual

The tremendous growth of supported employment programs during the 1980's was impacted by a variety of philosophical, judicial, economic, and legislative influences. Beginning with roots in the early twentieth century, growing through a controversial series of activities in the 1970's, and finally becoming a nationally recognized and legitimate activity in the 1980's, supported employment programs continue to change and expand today.

  • Vocational rehabilitation programs were established in 1918 by an act of Congress. These programs were established in every state to assist with the rehabilitation of soldier' s returning from World War I. In 1920 vocational rehabilitation services were extended to civilians with physical disabilities.

  • In 1943 vocational rehabilitation services were extended to persons with mental retardation and mental illness - a significant shift in a philosophy of rehabilitation of persons with proven work histories to habilitation of persons with nonexistent or sporadic work histories.

  • During the 1950's parents groups such as the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) began to be established and became vocal in their demands for educational and vocational services for children and adults. Legislative amendments to rehabilitation legislation tremendously expanded the number of rehabilitation facilities (i.e., sheltered workshops, work activities centers) for adults with disabilities.

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the "Great Society" programs, and the establishment of the President's Committee on Mental Retardation, during the Kennedy-Johnson presidential years supported the growing demands for social acceptance of people with disabilities by advocates.

  • Wolf Wolfensberger published Normalization: The Principle of Normalization in Human Services in 1972 establishing a philosophical foundation for human services which continues today.

  • Buttressed by the success of efforts in the 1960's and Wolfensberger's principle of normalization, advocates thrust the concepts of deinstitutionalization (i.e., the Willowbrook case, and the Pennhurst case) and free appropriate public the least restrictive environment (i.e., PL 94-142) into national headlines in the early to mid 1970's.

  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prioritized services for persons with severe disabilities, including Section 503 calling for affirmative action in hiring persons with disabilities, and including Section 504 prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities.

  • Vocational training technology forced us to recognize that people with severe disabilities could learn and work. Marc Gold's efforts provided us with a series of teaching strategies that included Try Another Way.

  • Successful employment demonstration efforts for people with mental retardation were established in various universities across the country in the late 1970's and early 1980 's. These included Project Employability at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Specialized Training Program (STP) at the University of Oregon, and the Employment Training Program at the University of Washington.

  • By 1984 and 1985, these demonstrations had expanded to the point that the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) at the U.S. Department of Education provided five year funding to 27 states across the country to implement statewide systems change supported employment efforts.

  • In 1986 the Rehabilitation Act (PL 99-506) was amended to provide additional funds for supported employment. These funds, known as Title VI, Part C funds have been made available to all states on a formula grant basis exclusively for supported employment. In addition, PL 99-506 authorized the use of Title I "Case Service" dollars for supported employment services.

  • Over the past few years there have been several successful demonstrations of supported employment practices for people with disabilities other than mental retardation - people with traumatic brain injuries, physical disabilities, deaf-blindness, autism, and mental illness. Expansion of supported employment practices to many more individuals with these diverse disability characteristics remains an important issue.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) PL 101-336 was enacted into law on July 26, 1990. It provides a clear and comprehensive national mandate to end discrimination against persons with disabilities. Specifically, ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the area of employment, public accommodation, transportation, telecommunication and the activities of state and local governments.

  • A period of public review and comment was initiated for the supported employment regulations in February of 1990, and the amended regulations were published in the June 24, 1992 Federal Register (Vol. 57, No. 122; pp. 28432-28442).

  • The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 (P.L. 102-569) were signed by the President on October 29, 1992 and became Public Law 102-569. These amendments are much more than a status-quo Reauthorization or continuation of the Federal/State Rehabilitation Program. Substantial adjustments were made in the principles, purpose, process, and outcomes of the Rehabilitation Program to support persons across the full range of type and extent of disability to attain and maintain employment outcomes appropriate to their interests and abilities. The amendments are guided by the presumption of ability.A person with a disability, regardless of the severity of the disability, can achieve employment and other rehabilitation goals, if the appropriate services and supports are made available.


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