I was delighted to join over 1,200 advocates from across the nation who attended the Alliance for Full Participation’s Employment Summit in Washington D.C. last month. I wanted to share with you my impressions of the important aspects of the Summit and its implications for future services/supports. The Summit itself was the combined effort of 15 national disability organizations including The Arc.
The theme of the Summit was: “Real Jobs: It’s Everyone’s Business!” Attendees represented about 1/3 self-advocates, 1/3 family members and 1/3 community providers. The voice from the self-advocates was loud and clear: “Have high expectations! We want real jobs!”
The goal of the Summit is to double the rate of competitive employment for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (which is now around 10%) by the year 2015.
States were also encouraged to follow the lead of many other states, including Washington, Massachusetts and Kansas, to become Employment First States. Right now there are over 25 states working on some type of Employment First initiatives. In Illinois, an Employment First Summit is being planned for policy makers and statewide associations in January, 2012.
Washington State has had the longest experience with Employment First. Their policy is: “Supports to pursue and maintain gainful employment in integrated settings in the community shall be the primary service option for working-age adults.”
Employment First is about raising expectations and improving practices, applying the same set of responsibilities and expectations to people with disabilities that are applied to all working-age adults.
What we are experiencing now is a national movement away from traditional day programs and a shift to re-structure current services to integrated employment for everyone. This movement is being strongly supported by the Dept. of Health & Human Services, Dept. of Labor, Office of Special Education & Rehabilitatitive Services and the Dept. of Justice.
I was fascinated to learn in a presentation from Eve Hill, Dept. of Justice, that DOJ is expanding its efforts to enforce the Olmstead decision into states who have an over reliance on segregated day services. This is beyond only investigating community living options. The recent agreement between DOJ and the State of Georgia is a good example of their efforts to expand employment initiatives away from traditional day programs: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/October/10-crt-1165.htmlThe Georgia agreement highlights the clarification of employment services recently issues by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as part of state waivers. Here is a link to CMS Informational Bulletin on Waiver Instructions Regarding Employment Services. Expect to see similar agreements in Virginia and other states DOJ is working in. Employment and segregated day programs are on their radar.
We heard success story after success story about people moving from institutions and day services to competitive employment. We heard success story after success story about communities moving to re-tool their traditional day programs and moving into competitive employment for everyone. The facts are quite clear: we have the knowledge and the technology to employ people with disabilities in integrated employment. This is something we can do, but policies and funding must change here in Illinois in order to make this transition.
David Mank and Paul Wehman, two national experts on employment, encouraged states with these thoughts:

  1. People Want Change
  2. Have High Expectations
  3. Presume Employability of Everyone
  4. Be Positive – Focus on Success
  5. Innovate with Technology
  6. The Labor Market is Shrinking
  7. We Know How to Do This
  8. Bring People Together in Illinois to Advocate for Employment First

Illinois is on the brink of major systems change. Our disability system is about to be re-balanced in favor of community-based supports & services. These are exciting times. We are going to see opportunities to move to best practice models in community living and employment practices. It is going to require a lot of hard work, re-tooling of the current system and giving our staff the important training in this time of transition. We have talked about this forever. I have not seen an opportunity of this nature in my entire career. We know how to do this and the time is now.

Here is a link to the AFP Summit, handouts, videos and other products of the Summit. There is a wealth of information here: http://www.allianceforfullparticipation.org/
Some of the keynote speakers included and they were all great:

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services

David Egan, self-advocates at the local, national and international levels.

Tim Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics

Ricardo Thornton, passionate self-advocate on the importance of full participation and integrated employment. Ricardo is the former resident of a state institution.

Frank Sesno, former CNN White House Corresondent, moderated a very engaging Town Hall Meeting on what is needed to make integrated employment a reality for all.  

Tony Paulauski
Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423
815-464-1832 (OFFICE)
815-464-1832 (CELL)