Historically, people with disabilities, and particularly developmental disabilities, have experienced unemployment, underemployment, and poverty at rates that far surpass those without disabilities. Additionally, people with disabilities are less likely to find steady or satisfying employment. “Employment First,” the idea that competitive employment in an integrated setting should be the priority outcome for people with disabilities, is a national movement that continues to gain momentum.
Governor John Kasich signed the Employment First Executive Order in March 2012, making Ohio one of 26 states with an official Employment First policy or legislation. A policy sets the direction, but will not alone improve employment outcomes for people with developmental disabilities. Successful implementation of Employment First requires a multi-pronged approach and a long-term commitment to systems change.
A comprehensive approach must focus on key strategies; all designed to work synergistically to impact a service structure that better supports people to achieve community employment and directs more resources toward that preferred outcome. These steps include:
- Alignment of state and local policies, procedures and planning across multiple agencies (schools, county boards, vocational rehabilitation, mental health, and workforce development) to improve community employment outcomes,
- Skill development for providers to better support people with disabilities in integrated settings,
- Realignment of funding structure to direct more resources to community employment,
- Increased access and availability of ongoing supports and services for people to achieve community employment,
- Improved preparation of youth and adults, including employability skill development,
- A strong focus on person-centered planning to discover a person’s interests and talents to inform vocational goals,
- Engagement with businesses and strengthened awareness of community members about the capabilities of workers with disabilities, and
- A method to track progress on achievements to hold the system accountable. Ohio’s Path to Employment First is a summary of the activities that have been implemented since the Executive Order was signed, the long-range planning that has taken place with broad stakeholder input, and the future planned activities to support the ongoing paradigm shift in our culture to one that truly recognizes and embraces the contributions and capabilities of people with developmental disabilities.