ICI Promotes Competitive Employment for People with Disabilities
Across the country, employment for people with disabilities remains stubbornly low. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national labor force participation rate is at just 21.2% for those who identify as individuals with disabilities. Through the efforts of several of its program areas, ICI’s commitment to employment is steadfast and clear. “Having a job is a valued social role for people with and without disabilities,” says Kelly Nye-Lengerman, a staff member with extensive experience in employment services and supports. “ICI’s work informs both policies and practices that support employment of people with disabilities to work in the community, in a job and career of their choice.”
Each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. Several ICI projects promote competitive employment for people with disabilities. Nye-Lengerman points to the Institute’s recent work with the Minnesota Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) as a good example. Staff at ICI's Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTC-CL) work with VRS to provide training, technical assistance, and evaluation support to implement person-centered practices agency-wide in their work to support job seekers in pursuit of competitive, integrated employment. (Person-centered practices focus on the person, using a strengths-based approach, and they support valued social roles and reciprocity.) In addition, RTC-CL provides technical assistance to the agency so ongoing investments and key activities within the agency support person-centered practices. As part of this project, the team assists VRS with communities of practice within the agency, and provides access to the online "Person-Centered Counseling" curriculum through DirectCourse. Nye-Lengerman — along with RTC-CL co-workers Amy Gunty, Mark Olson, Jody Van Ness (pictured), and Erin Watts — are training all VRS staff and administrators in person-centered practices. Additional field training on implementation of person-centered practices to managers, counselors, and field staff is also provided. Making state services more person-centered ensures that individuals with disabilities are treated with dignity and respect, while supporting informed choice and self-direction.
And the benefit to people with disabilities? “Employment is a means to connect with coworkers, earn a paycheck, have a sense a purpose, and make a contribution,” maintains Nye-Lengerman. “The use of person-centered practices supports individuals with disabilities to pursue work, build relationships, and take on their role as self-determined citizens.”