Employment First

Defining “Employment First”:

Employment in the general workforce is the first and preferred outcome in the provision of publicly funded services for all working age citizens with disabilities, regardless of level of disability.

Employment First principles must be based on clear public policies and practices that ensure employment of citizens with disabilities within the general workforce is the priority for public funding and service delivery.

Does Employment First Make a Difference?

Yes. For example, in the area of employment services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Washington State ha a long-standing commitment to polices and practices focused on employment in the community as the first priority. The end result is that 89% of individuals served by the Washington State system are in integrated employment services, compared to a national average of 20%. Many states are even well below this average with some at less than 10%.

What is the Role of Federal Government?

APSE is urging Congress and the federal government to support legislation and policies that will make Employment First a national policy. There are many areas within federal policymaking that can be utilized to support Employment First. The following are two examples:

  • Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) spends approximately $500 million per year for segregated day programs, while spending slightly above $100 million per year to support competitive employment. Through an Employment First policy, CMS would over time essentially reverse these figures, with the vast majority of funds going to support competitive employment.
  • In the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), employment is listed as one of the outcomes of transition from school to adult life. IDEA could be strengthened with language that states that the preferred outcome of transition service is employment in the general workforce, and also strengthens requirements for real work experience in the community while individuals are in school. This is particularly important, given that work experience during teenage years is a strong predictor of employment success as an adult.