Most disability advocates and professionals have been aware for a very long time that sheltered or segregated environments (particularly in day options) do not generate good outcomes in the areas of inclusion and capacity building. Nevertheless, resistance remains to the closure of such environments. Some say more time is needed, others say that these environments provide a ‘place’ for people to be and the structure that is required for them to thrive. I respectfully cannot agree.
The 2014 Alberta Council of Disability Services (ACDS) Spring Conference – held in Edmonton this year, turned out to be one of the best Employment Conferences I’ve been to in a very long time. Although Employment Inclusion is not the primary focus of ACDS, they have seen the ‘writing on the wall’ and invested heavily in the promotion of information and training – even before the Alberta Government announced their commitment to Employment First in the spring of 2013.
It seems to be the question on everyone’s mind lately; where can we get really good staff training? It’s encouraging that people working in the field of employment inclusion are interested and invested in increasing the knowledge and skills of professionals on their teams. A great workshop, training session or conference can be really valuable in terms of igniting passion and providing new perspectives or insights.
Employment First is essentially a ‘best practices’ statement which simply asserts that employment in the general workforce should be the first and preferred outcome for publicly funded services for adults with intellectual / developmental disabilities. Employment First principles have been promoted most vocally by APSE – the Association of People Supporting Employment First – a national association promoting employment inclusion in the United States. Employment First also defines employment as working in an integrated setting for at least minimum wage – i.e.
The movement towards outcomes-based services in the disability services sector is a clear trend. To a large degree, however, it’s only the trend that’s clear. Our collective understanding of outcomes is often limited within the sector and even once we’ve mastered the difference between goals, outputs, outcomes, etc. we still struggle with identifying the right outcomes to track – the ones which actually show our impact.
On June 20th 2013, Calgary, along with several other municipalities in Southern Alberta declared a State of Emergency due to severe rainfall and flood threat. By morning on the 21st it wasn’t just a threat – the rivers whose origins lay in the East Slopes of the Rockies couldn’t be contained anymore. The effect on many communities was devastating. In the wake of this disaster, however, community flourished; people came forward by the hundreds to help those in neighbourhoods that were hit hard by the flooding.
Several weeks ago, a local employment service I consult to encountered an all too familiar situation; the residential services involved urgently wanted the job-seeker “out of the house” and engaged in full time employment. The Career Exploration and Job Search processes were, in their estimation, taking too long. A job placement in which this job-seeker had no demonstrated interest nor aptitude was subsequently promoted by ‘advocates’ who had no resources with which to provide training and job retention supports. The job lasted two days.
Government funding for employment services for people with disabilities generally falls into two categories. Type one is best described as ‘Project Funding’ which is generally based in strategic procurement, requests for proposals (for which there is intense competition) and 1 – 3 year long contracts based on the policy directives of the day. Type two is best described as ‘Core Funding’ which is based in ongoing relationships with the same service provider organizations year after year.
Since the mid 1980’s the Supported Employment Movement has been working to facilitate the employment inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. The basic model has branched out to serve people with different types of disabilities and barriers to employment and it has undergone some name changes and ‘re-branding’ along the way. It’s all about facilitating strengths-based, person-directed employment inclusion and, though we sometimes complicate it, sustainable employment inclusion is a relatively simple recipe.
The world of employment inclusion and capacity building for individuals and organizations alike would appear to be getting a much needed injection of energy this year. It seems sometimes as though forces conspire to create the perfect conditions for everyone involved. These are rare occurrences which must be acted upon for the rewards to be reaped. Three short months into 2013 and we’re seeing fireworks at the policy level and paradigm shifts that verge on ‘tectonic.’ Change is most certainly in the air for the new fiscal year - and the air is fresh!