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APSE History

Twenty- Five Years of APSE:   The Association of People Supporting Employment First

APSE has played a most critical role in establishing supported employment as the viable rehabilitative service for individuals with significant disabilities who have been unable to become employed in the workforce. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the U.S. Department of Education offered major federal grants to over 40 states in order to promote the implementation of supported employment. These projects were for the most part quite successful but they did not last long enough and the lack of sustainability affected the speed of implementation of supported employment. Fortunately, about then APSE was born and began to take on a national leadership role in the states and at the federal level. APSE has state chapters with conferences and a national conference annually, it has a voice at the national advocacy table, it promotes newsletter briefs and members receive the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, an international journal. APSE has helped lead the way for international implementation of supported employment.  This past June, in Dublin, was the 20th meeting of the European Union of Supported Employment.

Supported employment (SE) emphasizes the benefits of having opportunities for real, integrated work as the first choice of persons with significant disabilities.   All parties involved benefit from competitive employment. Such employment provides the individual with a disability a real job, benefits, and the dignity that arises from gainful employment.

With SE, the employer gets a good employee and receives specialized support for job acquisition and retention. The family is able to see the newly employed family member in a fully competent role in the workplace. Finally, taxpayers spend less money than they would to support the individual in a segregated day program. However, several questions remain: Why do the vast majority of individuals with intellectual, physical, psychiatric, and sensory disabilities remain in segregated day treatment programs? What values are service providers and advocates operating under?

The answers to these questions lie partially in the inability of advocates and people with disabilities to adequately coordinate their collective efforts to increase employment opportunities. Adult service systems using segregated services remain deeply entrenched as they have for decades. Changing this way of providing services is extremely difficult, particularly in times of reduced funding resulting from a recessionary economy. Hence, there is an overwhelming necessity to market the positive attributes of SE intended to serve people with significant disabilities.

For 25 years, APSE has stood for : Presumption of employment, person-centered control, wages, supports, interdependence, and social connections within the community: These are the underlying values that should be reflected in any quality employment  program or organization for people with significant disabilities. It is only with a clear vision and an articulated set of core values that individual organizational members are able to consistently make decisions and conduct business in a manner that ‘over time’ stays true to the mission of the organization.

It is clear to most that with full inclusion occurring more and more in the schools, and US Department of Justice settlements in many states looking to implement the Olmstead decision, that supported employment continues more than ever to be the “go-to’ service for transition specialists, consumers, families and adult providers. Medicaid waiver dollars are widely used now for supported employment. None of this would be happening without the advocacy and leadership of APSE leaders and membership.

With the help of our formidable Executive Director, Dr. Laura Owens, we have been able to pull together a number of quotes and testimonials to APSE, many of who have been pioneers of supported employment for over three decades.

This will be a great 25th year anniversary!

Paul Wehman, Ph.D.

Editor, JVR

Reprinted from Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 38(3), Wehman, P., Twenty-Five Years of APSE:  The Association of People Supporting Employment First, 157-162, Copyright 2013 with permission from IOS Press.