Advocating for an Inclusive Workforce


Foothold Technology Senior Advisor, David Bucciferro, recently facilitated a round-table discussion with industry leaders Sarah Myerscough-Mueller, Vice President at Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (IARF), Pat Dowse, Vice President at New York Alliance, and Esme Grant Grewal, Vice President of Government Relations at American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), to share thoughts on improving vocational outcomes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Throughout the webinar, the panel addressed issues related to Managed Care, state and federal policies, and made recommendations for increasing employment rates. 

We had amazing interest and so many questions throughout the webinar that we couldn’t get to all of them. We’re sharing a follow-up interview that we conducted with our panelists. 

What do you think is the future of group employment where individuals are compensated based on their productivity level with a piece-rate pay scale (not center-based or sheltered)? 

Sarah:  I believe group employment pay based on productivity can serve as an important training option for individuals with disabilities interested in moving towards competitive integrated employment. Until more community employment options are available, this can be a good option for all those interested in employment which also goes to the need for engaging/educating businesses on hiring people with disabilities – whether creating group employment or independent employment scenarios within their organizations.

Pat:  I feel that the future for a group of folks demonstrating a production level at less than what is needed for regular employment will need better training. This training model exists in manufacturing and has been for many years – Training within Industry.  Manufacturers use it to train their workforce and so should we if we want folks to be competitive in this workforce and any others. Apprenticeships are also ways to assist folks to learn the fundamentals to jobs that are in the list of a middle-skill workforce.

How can we engage employers/businesses to hire people with intellectual and physical disabilities? 

Sarah:  It is up to provider agencies to appropriately hire and train employment specialists/job coaches so that they understand the importance of working with and engaging businesses to help them understand the benefits of hiring individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Partnering with organizations like Disability:IN and, in Chicago, the Chicago Business Leadership Network, can provide connections to businesses that might not otherwise be accessible to employment specialists. Additionally, there is work being done at the University of Illinois at Chicago around educating businesses about hiring and working with individuals with disabilities.   

Pat:  There is an ongoing need to teach Supported Employment Specialists how to meet the business’ needs for a workforce. It is not the function of the business to engage the job coach but the coach’s job to learn what the business needs and bring them a potential employee to match the basics of the job opening they have. Once businesses understand that a SE Specialist or Coach will reduce the time that their HR department has to spend with the onboarding of the new employee – they are more likely to want to learn the benefits.

Esme: ANCOR did a webinar series in conjunction with TASH focused on people with significant disabilities which really focuses on the need for supported employment specialists – I am happy to provide you information on that. I think this topic is a discussion of its own – Disability:IN has been a tremendous resource, formerly US Business Leadership Network.

What do you think is the future of center-based employment, compared to community employment? 

Sarah:  In the State of Illinois, center-based employment is an important option for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Unfortunately, we do not provide enough community employment options/choices for people with disabilities and until such time as we do, this option is one that must continue. Center-based employment/sheltered work employs far more individuals than does competitive integrated employment. Additionally, center-based employment can and should be an important part of the employment process for individuals with disabilities where they can learn work skills to prepare them for employment in the community.

Pat:  If Center based employment features the real need and that is to train and prepare folks for other jobs, then it will be a needed format and will survive in some function. Any rehab agency may have a centered based employment program if they have funding to pay for the staff to operationalize it. I do believe that there is a need to look at how to bridge apprenticeship with what is now offered in centered based programs for the training and evaluation of the capacity of an individual’s work production.

Esme: I personally think it will continue to steadily decrease but will continue to exist, especially in rural areas. I think the goal of everyone involved in this discussion is to make sure folks have an informed choice of the service they are receiving and that we have a clear understanding of how different models are to be monitored and funded. I do think some folks will choose center-based employment and we should support that right, but ensure that that service is providing the best quality and outcomes possible and if provided by a program funded by HCBS dollars, ensuring that it is part of a service that is as integrated as possible.