Supported Employment and Integrated Work Sites

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Most people with intellectual disabilities (ID, formerly mental retardation) are able to work. This may be part-time or full-time employment. IDs encompass a broad range of functional limitations, and a diverse set of abilities. Fortunately, employment opportunities are just as diverse.

Employers of people with IDs report they are pleased with these employees' performance. They are punctual, reliable, and dependable. People with IDs fulfill job responsibilities in a great variety of vocations. The key to successful employment is to match people's interests, skills and abilities with the job requirements. People with IDs are just like everyone else. They are motivated and perform well when they enjoy their work.


Historically, people with disabilities were trained to perform jobs specifically created for people with disabilities. These non-competitive jobs were artificially created. Today, people with disabilities are encouraged to choose work that appeals to them. They are no longer limited to work that was created for them. With additional supports, many people with IDs can work alongside people without disabilities. They also can successfully compete for these jobs.

There are different levels of support for employment. This is called support intensity. Some people with IDs may require occupational, physical, or speech therapies along with job training programs. Other employment supports include vocational rehabilitation program (voc-rehab). Children usually receive voc-rehab while enrolled in school. Adults might have a job coach using a supportive strategy called supported employment. Often social skills training is also provided. This is because successful employment usually requires some degree of social skill. Social skills and rehabilitative therapies are discussed in other sections

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Voc-rehab programs teach important job skills. These training programs may be offered in a variety of locations. Some may be conducted at a regular job site. Others may be offered in a classroom. The classroom simulates an employment setting, such as a factory. Vocational programs also include job-seeking skills. Students learn how to complete an employment application. They practice employment interviews. State and federally funded community service programs may provide assistance with job placement. These jobs are reserved for the disabled. Therefore, they are considered non-competitive jobs. The disadvantage of these jobs is that they continue to separate disabled workers from workers without disabilities.

Recently, a new support strategy had gained acceptance. It is called supported employment. Supported employment is an evidence-based practice. An evidence-based practice means there is a large body of research that demonstrates its effectiveness. Supported employment has three key features. These features distinguish it from traditional vocational rehabilitation programs:

1. Employment is paid, competitive employment. This means the same work performance is expected of disabled and non-disabled workers. Therefore, work is compensated in the same manner. This includes all forms of compensation such as pay, healthcare, vacation, etc.

2. Work sites are integrated. Workers with disabilities work alongside workers without disabilities. They perform the same tasks. They eat lunch together and take breaks together.

3. Workers with disabilities are provided ongoing support. This enables them to achieve success and satisfaction. This support includes natural supports such as supervisors and co-workers. It also includes the provision of a job coach.

The role of the job coach is very varied. It is dependent upon the particular needs of the person whom they are supporting. Support is usually bi-directional. This means the coach works with both the employer and the employee to forge a successful partnership. Job coaches help the employee learn the specific skills needed for the job. Job coaches also act as advocates. They work with employers to provide reasonable accommodations as required by law. They may assist supervisors to learn how to communicate well with their ID employees. For instance, a job coach may help a supervisor learn to give simple, clear instructions.

Job coaches help to solve common practical problems. For example, an ID employee may need to ride the bus to work. The job coach shows them which bus stops to use. They may even practice riding the bus together until the employee feels comfortable riding alone. If given permission by the employee, they can attend job interviews and teach job skills on site.

Job coaches also help people with ID to develop appropriate workplace behavior. It is important to get along well with supervisors and co-workers. Therefore, a job coach might help the employee learn to manage anger or frustration with a supervisor. Likewise, the job coach demonstrates and practices workplace social skills. For instance, they may demonstrate and practice using good table manners while eating lunch with co-workers.

As employees master the job, job coaches gradually decrease support. However, they usually remain available for telephone consultation as needed. Furthermore, they may reactivate the intensity of support. For instance, a change in supervisors or workplace setting may require a temporary increase in support.

In addition to income from employment, adults with IDs in the United States may be eligible for disability benefits. These benefits are provided by Title II of the Social Security Act. People become eligible for these benefits if they are declared unable to work because of a disability.

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