Like anyone, people with disabilities want an opportunity to work and enjoy the benefits of being employed.
They want to earn money and contribute to their communities. They want their skills and talents to be recognized and valued. They want a chance to be independent and not restricted to public benefits — but they might have concerns that make them think it's not possible or they might not know how to make it happen. That's where you come in!
Use the information below to open conversations about employment. Your belief that employment is possible can strongly influence whether someone chooses to work, regardless of disability.
You can start employment conversations by using person-centered tools, asking questions and providing information. Such guided conversations help people discover employment possibilities, understand support options and make their own decisions about work. Throughout this process, one of the most important things you can do as a support professional is to actively listen and understand where someone is coming from so that you can help build their path to employment.
There are many reasons why someone may have concerns or not be interested in employment. Your role is to find out why the person doesn't want to work, and then find ways to address their concerns and gauge their interests. Once you help the person understand that employment is attainable and beneficial, you can develop an action plan.
Start by getting to know the person. Use person-centered practices to identify the person's interests, passions, likes and dislikes. Discover the experiences and beliefs guiding the person's decisions about work. Use these details to have a positive discussion about what it will take to build a more meaningful life.
Address the person's fears and challenges in a way that makes sense to the person. Provide clear information about employment and the benefits of a job. Know that it takes time to help someone overcome their fears. Your goal is to help the person move beyond doubt and be willing to take risks. Be patient but persistent. Interests can change over time. Someone may be nervous about work at first, but become interested in the months or years to come.
If someone says they don't want competitive employment, you must ensure they made an informed choice. For guidance, see the support informed choice section below. Ask questions to understand the "why" behind the no, so you can address concerns and build experiences that show the person what's possible.
Watch the video below to learn how to use the Integrated Supports Star for planning and setting goals for employment.
Chose the questions you ask carefully. Questions such as "Do you want to work?" don't expand the conversation. Openings such as "Why …" or "Tell me about …" or "Describe …" can elicit more complex answers that allow you to discover a person's knowledge, opinions and feelings.
The discussions you facilitate will be as varied as the interests, concerns and belief systems of the people you support. In addition to asking open-ended questions, use person-centered tools to deepen your understanding of the person. Listen for challenges and concerns, and then propose and explore potential solutions.
Sample questions or conversation starters to help people think about employment:
Competitive employment has benefits that cross many areas of people's lives. Pay attention for places where employment can be a solution to what a person is expressing. Look for those natural moments to introduce work and build comfort in thinking about something different.
For example, you might introduce work when the person:
It's critical that you help the people you support understand the world of work, especially if someone is earning less than minimum wage or considering a subminimum wage job. Perhaps the person hasn't ever envisioned anything different than the current situation. The idea of something new might be scary at first, and it might take time. Your role is give the person every opportunity to make an informed choice, to gain work experience and to have a champion in their corner.
Tip: Document the steps you take to help ensure an informed choice about work.
Key training: Check out the informed choice toolkit to learn more about informed choice and your role as a support professional.
Special note about subminimum wages: If someone is engaged in work activities that pay below minimum wage, they will participate in annual or semi-annual conversations about their interest in competitive employment. These conversations (formally called career counseling, information and referral conversations) are a federal requirement as part of section 511 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA). In Minnesota, the Centers for Independent Living (CILs) hold these conversations and complete a career counseling documentation form (PDF). To learn more about these conversations, see this introductory video for WIOA Section 511 (10:01). As you hold informed choice conversations, ask people if they've participated in WIOA conversations. Note that even if someone has participated in WIOA conversations, you still have a responsibility as a support professional to ensure informed choice.
People who have concerns about employment may be in noncompetitive work arrangements and have limited experience with competitive integrated employment. Their families may be concerned about them working. They may have gone directly from high school or a transition program to noncompetitive employment. They may have had unsuccessful past attempts to find or keep a competitive job. They might be worried about how work will affect their benefits or need help arranging transportation.
Remember that jumping into the world of competitive employment can be scary. Meet people where they're at. Small steps toward building real-life experiences can go a long way toward building confidence and engagement in deciding to pursue employment.
Use the Charting the LifeCourse life trajectory for exploring employment (PDF) and personal profile (PDF) to help people articulate what they want in employment, steps they can take to get there, and how they would like to be supported. Also consider sharing success stories of other people with disabilities who are working. Real-life examples can help build confidence.
Historically, people with disabilities have participated in noncompetitive work. Noncompetitive work often pays less than subminimum wage.
Noncompetitive work includes:
Noncompetitive work should not be considered a long-term outcome of employment supports. Noncompetitive work often hampers progress toward competitive integrated employment. Employment support professionals are bypassing noncompetitive work in favor of helping people get hired directly at competitive jobs and then providing supports to maintain employment.
You don't need to know — and do — everything yourself. Your role is to help people find answers and make connections to the appropriate resources.
If you're working with someone who has questions or concerns about how working will impact their benefits, introduce them to Disability Benefits 101. Show them the benefits estimators plus the chat feature for questions. You can also connect the person to a benefits expert at the Hub.
If you're working with someone who is interested in employment and wants to explore their options:
If the person you're supporting isn't on a waiver, help them see if they might qualify:
Once the waiver is in place, suggest learning about possibilities and getting experience with work in the community. Connect with the waiver case manager to continue employment exploration.
If you're working with a transition-age student, make a connection with the Pre-Employment Transition Services representative from the person's school to explain employment options.
You can connect the people you support to many resources for finding employment.
For people with disabilities
Connect them with Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS), which provides people with disabilities a variety of counseling, training, job skills and job placement services, as well as long-term supports to help people keep their jobs once they've been hired.
For people who are blind or have vision loss
Connect them with State Services for the Blind (SSB), which helps people live as independently as possible by providing adjustment to blindness training as well as help preparing for, finding and keeping a job.
For people on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
The Ticket to Work program allows people with disabilities to select the program and provider best suited to help them reach their employment goals.
For people on waivers
The Minnesota Department of Human Services Employment First dashboards can help you explore employment service providers in your area and see employment outcomes for the people they serve. To use the dashboards, click the "Provider Filter" tab and then select an employment service provider from the dropdown list.
CareerForce Centers can help anyone with their job search, even if they don't have a disability. They provide access to job banks, workshops, job fairs and resource centers.
A real-life understanding of competitive employment is critical to making informed choices about work. Although building this understanding will look different for each person, it should start with a person-centered process. This process can be informal, drawing on the people and businesses someone knows in the community. In some cases, you'll want to focus on opportunities for the person to build self-determination skills and self-confidence.
Options for building work experiences include:
Consider using the Charting the LifeCourse integrated supports star worksheet (PDF) to find a person's supports, such as family, friends, networks, technology or formal services that can support them in exploring work.
If the person you're supporting has access to waiver services, introduce employment exploration services to see if they would like more extensive supports to learn about the work world.
You're likely to hear concerns about employment from the people you support. Anticipate common concerns so that you can be prepared with potential responses.
Anyone who wants to work can, even with a disability. We can find jobs that fit your abilities and we can ask employers for special arrangements (called "accommodations") when we need to.
All benefits in Minnesota encourage and support work. They do this by having special rules, called work incentives, that can help you keep your benefits if you need them while you work or get them back quickly if they stop because of work.
In Minnesota, you won't lose health coverage because of work. In fact, there are health care programs that are specifically designed for people with disabilities who work. Review the health care programs that are available to you when you work, especially Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD) and 1619(b).
To see how work is possible, even with benefits, and how you can have more money when you work, watch the benefit videos and use the estimators on Disability Benefits 101.
We can talk about options for getting to and from work. There might be programs that can help pay for transportation, and we can look at public transportation options in your area. Your coworkers might even be able to help out, if needed.
We can make sure you still connect with your friends, and it might be fun to try something new that really interests you. Remember that friends are made over time, and new friends can be made any time — even while keeping your old friends.
We don't know for sure that the job will last or that you'll like it but, there are things we can do to help it be a success. And if it doesn't work out, that's OK. I'm not in my first job. It's OK to try. If we need to, we can try something different.
Discuss the variety of jobs available in the local area. Set up informational interviews with employers to help the person see the options and make an informed choice. Find opportunities to try out jobs or work options before starting a job search. Describe how the job development process will work and how job supports will be provided, if needed.
Give examples of other people who've been successful in integrated competitive employment, and connect the person with peers or mentors who've had success in community employment.
Use a person-centered approach to discuss the person's interests and ways to explore work that incorporates those interests. Make sure potential jobs are a good fit socially and will promote interaction with others.
If it seems helpful, let the person know your statistics on both helping people find jobs or self-employment and retention rates.
That's OK, and that's why I'm here. I can help you figure out what interests you and what jobs might be right for you — or get you connected to others who can help.
Let the person know that you'll set up activities like job shadowing, informational interviews or maybe even short-term job tryouts or volunteer opportunities to help them discover what's interesting and what might be a good fit.
What do you think? While their opinions are important, whether or not you work is up to you — not your friends or family.
Use the Charting the LifeCourse life trajectory worksheet (PDF) and integrated supports star worksheet (PDF) to identify and address any concerns friends or family may have.
Lots of people try (and sometimes fail) different jobs before they find the right one. Let's look at what you've tried, what made it go badly, and what you learned so we can try to make sure that doesn't happen again.
You might use the 4+1 person-centered tool for this exercise.
Remember, it's OK to try. If it doesn't work, we'll try something different.
Find avenues to help the person experience new work situations to build confidence. Options include informational interviews, job shadowing and job tryouts.
Many people with disabilities safely work in the community. Offer specific examples of people you or the person knows.
Ask if the person experienced safety problems in the past and, if so, how the person responded. Then identify any new safety concerns and help create a plan to address them. For example, the person might work with the employer on safety issues, practice using a cellphone to call for help or practice asking a bus driver for directions.
Your attitude matters. A person who seems uninterested in working or in opportunities outside of sheltered work may be willing to try competitive employment because of their trust in you and your role in their life. Your belief that success at work is possible can make the difference in someone deciding to set employment goals and go to work.
In your daily interactions:
To be a supportive presence: