“Employment First” is a national movement based on the idea that competitive employment in an integrated setting should be the priority outcome for people with disabilities. It’s been just over two year since Governor John Kasich signed the Employment First Executive Order, making Ohio one of 26 states with an official Employment First Policy or legislation. Since then a statewide inter-agency Taskforce has been shaping the future of Employment First in Ohio, and their good work is already influencing Summit County.
The Federal Case for Employment First
Recent Department of Justice (DOJ) Olmstead investigations assert that states violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, when they plan, structure, and administer their system of providing employment and vocational services in a manner that delivers those services primarily in segregated sheltered workshops, rather than in integrated community employment.
In January 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, issued a final rule to change the requirements for the qualities of settings that are eligible for reimbursement for the Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS). This rule moves away from defining settings by “what they are not”, and instead defines them by the nature and quality of individuals’ experiences. The new rule will maximize access to the benefits of community living and ensure that people receive services in the most integrated setting. CMS has clarified that the new rule applies to all HCBS setting, not just residential settings, including day program and pre-vocational training settings.
The Statewide Landscape for Employment First
In 2012 several statutory changes took place that support Employment First. Ohio’s Employment First Policy (ORC 5123.022) states that employment services for people with developmental disabilities shall be directed at community employment, meaning competitive employment in an integrated setting, and that all people with developmental disabilities are presumed capable of community employment.
The Ohio Department of Education, or ODE, changed requirements for Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, for transition-age youth to begin transition planning at age 14 with measureable post-secondary goals related to competitive employment in an integrated setting.
Current Activity in Ohio and Summit County
As the Governor’s Employment First Taskforce and an active Advisory Committee work together to operationalize activities and recommendations to increase employment outcomes for people with developmental disabilities in Ohio, Summit DD has operationalized those recommendations at a local level. “In Summit County people who are able to and want to work in the community should have every opportunity to do so,” stated Carrie Roberts, Summit DD Community Employment Director. “We’ve spent the last two years building a foundation to meet people where they are on their journey toward full community integration.” Some accomplishments to date include:
- The Transition Framework is a results-oriented process that leads to individual community employment outcomes for youth with developmental disabilities. Summit County participated in the Framework training with the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI). Training was open to providers and school district personnel.
- The Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD) launched an Employment First website in March 2013, which hosts information about benefits counseling, transition planning tools, newsletters, videos and fact sheets, and training opportunities.
- A new statewide data collection system launched earlier this year to capture employment outcome data. Summit DD is included in the first round of this rollout and will soon enter data on individual-specific employment services utilized, hours worked and wages, among other employment data. Reporting will take place when an individual applies for services, and at least annually therafter. Data will be available in the future on the Employment First website and will be used to identify policies and practices that lead to successful employment outcomes.
- The new Employment First Rule (5123:2-2-05) ensures all individuals with developmental disabilities have opportunities to be engaged in community employment. The rule outlines a person-centered planning process for all working-age adults that identifies strengths, interests and abilities, and identifies a person’s place on the path to community employment. Summit DD is piloting a Discovery process that identifies a positive personal profile using home visits, work trials, and benefits analysis to identify each individual’s place on their path to employment. The pilot will begin later this summer.
- DODD and Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) are partnering in a statewide initiative, Partnership for Employment First, to expand community employment services for people with developmental disabilities. This partnership allows Summit DD to maximize resources to support more people on their path to community employment, build system capacity, and strengthen the system between Summit DD and vocational rehabilitation systems. The Partnership for Employment began in Summit County in October 2013 with 82 possible slots for adults who are currently supported in segregated settings, currently more than a third of those slots are filled. An OOD Vocational Counselor will serve as an active part of the job seeker’s team, providing career personalized career planning and development based on established supported employment best practice. If individuals in Summit County are interested in participating in this pilot they should contact their SSA.
- Summit DD has also participated and conducted several trainings throughout the last two years with employers, providers, SSA’s and Adult Services staff. Topics include Employment 101, Discovery and more.
These steps are among the first in a long journey toward integrated community employment. In addition to continuing the work on these initiatives, Summit DD will focus its future planning on transition from school to adult life, person-centered planning, interagency collaborations and family and caregiver involvement. We will travel with you on your path to community employment, together.