News Release 

Experts advocate for 'employment first, employment for all' for workers with disabilities

Inclusionary values are emphasized in this special issue of the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, which presents contributions from the 2020 Conference of the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE)

IOS Press

Research News

Amsterdam, July 14, 2021 - The Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation (JVR) announces publication of an openly available special issue that provides free access to key presentations from the 2020 Virtual Conference of the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE). These contributions advocate for and help facilitate the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace and community.

APSE Conferences are the only national conferences focused solely on the advancement of Employment First, Employment for All. They bring together more than 1,000 key influencers and stakeholders representing individuals with disabilities, communities, agencies, and services to network and discuss state-of-the-art strategies to ensure equitable employment for all citizens with disabilities receiving assistance from publicly funded systems.

"This special issue highlights just a few of the incredible topics covered during the 45 sessions comprising the 2020 event," explains Guest Editor Julie J. Christensen, MSW, PhD, Executive Director, APSE, Rockville, MD, USA. "It represents the resilience of a community that remains dedicated to making a contribution in research, practice, and policy. All three are integral and necessary to create lasting change, perhaps more now than ever as we continue to work for Employment First, Employment for All. I'm just incredibly excited to be focusing more attention on the resource that JVR provides to the APSE Community."

Highlights from the conference include coverage of:

  • Importance of developing multicultural competency to ensure equity in rehabilitation services
  • Moving beyond "what gets measured, gets done" to leveraging data to scale up and track outcomes and quality improvement
  • Empowering coalitions of self-advocates to hold state laws accountable for Statewide Employment First efforts
  • Importance of family input and taking the socioeconomic and cultural context of the family unit into consideration
  • Need to update information tools to remain current with the times (such as using social media in talent recruitment)

Rehabilitation professionals are required to be competent in serving multiculturally diverse individuals in a manner that promotes empowerment and full engagement. Tammy Jorgensen Smith, PhD, CRC, University of South Florida, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, Department of Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, Tampa, Florida, USA, writes that "Multicultural competency is critical for accurate clinical assessment and diagnosis and for effectively serving a diverse population of clients." In her paper, Dr. Smith discusses diagnostic tools and ethical decision-making models that integrate multicultural considerations and recommendations for building multicultural competency.

Families bring their own set of values and assumptions based on their socioeconomic and cultural background. In the article "Good fences make good neighbors," Bethany Chase, DSW, Rutgers University, The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities, New Brunswick, NJ, USA, provides context for why parents/guardians may be distrustful of the employment process, as well as why employment specialists may struggle to build strong partnerships with them. She discusses how to implement practices that not only welcome the critical input of families, but also maintain healthy and well-defined boundaries that affirm the autonomy, professionalism, and competence of the worker.

"By setting proactive, positive, welcoming, and compassionate guidelines and boundaries, employment specialists can reap the benefits of an engaged family while continuing to affirm the professionalism, autonomy, and competence of the worker," Dr. Chase concludes.

The issue features a postschool follow-up study of the integrated vocational functioning of 50 workers with significant intellectual disabilities over a 35-year period - the longest follow-up of its kind - contributed by Lou Brown, PhD, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-investigators.

Dr. Brown, widely regarded one of the most influential scholars and advocates for students with disabilities, passed away in May 2021. In a tribute honoring Dr. Brown JVR's Editor-in-Chief Paul Wehman writes, "Lou was a great man, an incredible pioneer, and an irreplaceable voice for persons with all disabilities, but especially those with the greatest challenges. When he wrote, he talked to the reader, he made the reader believe in what true inclusionary values were, and why all people with disabilities should be a normal part of our local communities."

The conference took place during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and takes into account the dramatic shift in the workplace. "We struggled to adapt to a virtual-only environment at the start of the pandemic," notes Dr. Christensen. "In many states, the flow of funding was temporarily interrupted and resulted in layoffs of the Disability Students Program (DSP) workforce. Some industries have disappeared. Others have grown exponentially. We're going to need to adjust accordingly.

"On the positive side, 'Work from Home' is now normalized. While we don't want this 'new normal' to be interpreted as letting the business community off the hook for complying with the ADA and ensuring that workplaces are fully accessible, 'Work from Home' has opened up new opportunities for employment for people with disabilities," she concludes.

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