It wasn’t too far back in our history that there was a common misconception that individuals with disabilities were incapable of competitive employment. It was thought that individuals with significant disabilities needed to be ‘healed’ or ‘prevocationally trained’, or ‘habilitated’ prior to engaging in a legitimate working life. In the last ten years, this misconception has been challenged in significant ways. Supported employment has played a vital role for mainstream culture to let go of outmoded ways of thinking commonly associated with a medical model of supports.
Inclusion means ‘Included’ In truly person-centered support, the individual receiving the support drives the process. They belong to themselves, their families and their communities. There are parameters of how the service is to be implemented, standards, best-practices and a legal and regulatory systems in place to protect people from harm. Within this, working people who happen to have disabilities, can participate in the workplace as a community. The employment specialist serves a specific purpose and fades her role over time perhaps only returning when changes in the workplace require her assistance. The Rehabilitation Act was amended in 1986 to include a definition of supported employment as well as exclusive funding and authorization of funds traditionally served by vocational habilitation, Title VI-C and Title I respectively. The act was further amended in 1998 to add provisions for increased accessibility in technology.
Change over time Culturally, we are discovering our misconceptions and seeking change. On July 22, 2014, President Obama signed H.R. 803 or the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act into law. This law does many things but among them is a limitation on enrollment in sheltered workshops for students leaving high school. In addition to modifying or changing employment opportunities, HR 803 also shifts accountability for some programs from the U.S. Department of Education to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On-line sources indicate that the unemployment rate among workers with disabilities fell slightly from 12.9% to 12.1%; the Department of Labor has indicated that it is too soon to see trending data since data collection began on workers with disabilities in 2008. Even if employment for people with disabilities increased slightly, inclusion in the workplace adds to the diversity and in turn, can positively impact a company culture’s ability to innovate.