||Training and Technical Assistance For Providers
Customized Employment (CE) is being demonstrated in communities across the nation and numerous questions and concerns
are being raised as this advanced employment strategy expands. The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability and
Employment Policy (ODEP) explains that: "Customized employment means individualizing the employment relationship between
employees and employers in ways that meet the needs of both. It is based on an individualized determination of the
strengths, needs, and interests of the person with a disability, and is also designed to meet the specific needs of the employer.
It may include employment developed through job carving, self-employment or entrepreneurial initiatives, or other job
development or restructuring strategies that result in job responsibilities being customized and individually negotiated
to fit the needs of individuals with a disability.
Customized employment assumes the provision of reasonable accommodations and supports necessary for the individual
to perform the functions of a job that is individually negotiated and developed (Federal Register, June 26, 2002,
Vol. 67. No. 123 pp 43154 -43149).
The principal hallmarks and activities of CE include:
Identifying specific job duties or employer expectations that are negotiated with employers;
Targeting individualized job goals to negotiate based on the needs, strengths, and interests of the employment seeker;
Meeting the unique needs of the employment seeker and the discrete, emerging needs of the employer;
Starting with the individual as the source of information for exploring potential employment options;
Offering representation, as needed, for employment seekers to assist in negotiating with employers;
Occurring in integrated, non-congregate environments in the community or in a business alongside people who do not have disabilities;
Resulting in pay at at least the prevailing wage (no sub-minimum wages);
Creating employment through self-employment and business ownership;
Facilitating an amalgam of supports and funding sources that may include Workforce Investment (One-Stops/Career Centers), Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), Medicaid, Community Rehabilitation Programs (CRPs), Schools, Social Security (SSA), families, and other partners coordinated in ways to meet the needs of the individual (Griffin & Hammis, 2005; Callahan, 2005; Condon, 2004)
Making Customized Employment work raises numerous questions, both unique and anticipated. The following is a
sampling of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about CE, and some brief responses:
Is Customized Employment just a new name for Supported Employment?
As Mike Callahan of Employment for All suggests that CE "stands on the
shoulders of supported employment." The job search process using a supported employment model is largely driven
by what jobs are available, advertised, or easy to find in that community or region. A heavy reliance on a Labor
Market approach impacts the kinds of jobs sought for people with disabilities, hence the high proportion of food
service, custodial, and high turnover jobs.
CE is a refinement of supported employment, but varies in important ways. In CE, the first step is getting
to know the employment seeker without preconceived ideas of "appropriate work" or what is advertised or is
typically available in the local job market. Once the person is known, then work can be explored based on the
person's interests, skills, and strengths. In other words, employment situations are sought that meet the needs
of the individual, and a negotiation follows that melds the desires of the worker while simultaneously meeting
the needs of the employer. CE counteracts the approach of filling available jobs and instead uses Discovery of
the individual as the driving force in a job creation process, and seeks to create mutually beneficial employment relationships.
Supported Employment makes allowances for congregate or group settings such as Mobile Crews and
Enclaves, where sub-minimum wages may be paid. CE is specifically individualized and accepts commensurate
wages only, in integrated settings. CE also includes business ownership as an important employment option (Griffin & Hammis, 2003).
How does one get to know the employment seeker?
The most widely used process is called Discovery (Callahan, 2004; Condon, 2004; Griffin, Hammis, & Geary, 2005). Discovery
is not planning, it is an assessment process that seeks to answer the questions "who is this person?" and "what are the ideal
conditions of employment?" The process most often starts at home, includes an inventory of the surrounding
neighborhood (with transportation and natural supports an on-going employment and inclusion issue, it makes sense
to look for interests, and subsequently, opportunities nearby), and expands to places where interests can be explored
through informational interviews, paid work experiences, or engagement in social activities. One vital point to remember
during Discovery is that the CE team, employment specialist, employment seeker, family member and whoever else is
involved, is not looking for employment; the outcome should be a reflection of the complexity of all human lives.
In other words, there should be multiple employment directions revealed, not a job description, but rather vocational
interests and a revealing of skills that are used to create employment in the community. For a more detailed discussion
of Discovery visit
Wouldn't a standardized Vocational Evaluation be more scientific than Discovery?
Standardized vocational evaluation has never been proven to predict employment success. Discovery replaces
the predictive validity assertion of Voc Eval with the ecologically valid process of witnessing an individual's
needs, skills, desires, interests, and contributions in real community environments. This approach is much more
functional and therefore more cost effective than traditional approaches to assessment, which often screen people
out of employment services instead of capturing their potential as workers and human beings.
Isn't Customized Employment too expensive?
CE is too new to have generated any definitive cost data. The question is a good one, but might be further
refined by asking "too expensive for whom?" Approximately 74% of adults with developmental disabilities remain
unemployed, served largely in sheltered work or non-work day programs operated across the country (Metzel, et al.
in press). The unemployment rate for individuals with psychiatric disabilities is worse and estimated at close to
90%, even though individuals with psychiatric disabilities list their greatest need and desire as being employed
(Drake, 2005; Bond, 1992). The tremendous expense of building over 5,000 day programs, segregated transportation
systems, and associated services has not delivered gainful employment, adequate training for employment, or social
inclusion. CE can be accomplished for those needing such an intensive approach by blending day program funding, VR
and WIA supports, and/or SSA Work Incentives such as Plans for Achieving Self Support (PASS), and Medicaid. Examples
to date do not reveal extraordinary costs at all. In fact, it can be effectively demonstrated that using one year's
typical day program funding can easily fund wage employment or business ownership for an individual with significant
disabilities (Griffin, Brooks-Lane, Hammis & Crandell, in press).
For instance, the national average day program rate is approximately $12,000. The average cost of a Supported
Employment placement for Vocational Rehabilitation is just under $5000. Using the entire $12,000, just from day
program, can likely cover the costs of Discovery, job development or small business start-up, and coaching. Even
using a couple thousand dollars a year for on-going supports (i.e., Extended Employment), the cost of employment
is significantly less. For example, an individual enters a day program at a cost of $12,000 per year. Outcomes
data suggests this person will likely be there for 30 years or more. Assuming no increases in funding (highly
unlikely), the taxpayer bill for this program is $360,000, plus SSI payments in excess of $208,440 (again assuming
no increases and not including the cost of Medicaid). Using the CE approach, the cost scenario might be as much as
$12,000 for employment development services, plus $2,000 a year in additional vocational supports, or $70,000 over
30 years (these expenses will no doubt vary based on the complexity of support needs, competence of the trainers,
and job match precision). At earnings of just $6.00 per hour for 30 hours per week (the typical weekly enrollment
hours for a day program), this person would be expected to earn $9,360 per year, or $280,800 over the next 30 years,
plus conservatively figured, Social Security savings of over $100,000. Even assuming the person changes jobs 3 or 4
times, CE is still less expensive.
Is Customized Employment about helping people find their Dream Job?
People with disabilities, just like everyone else, live complex lives. The more exposure we have to ideas,
diverse environments, people, and activities, the more interests we develop. Believing that any one of us has
only one dream job is quite limiting when careers are considered. We once worked with a young man and asked a
question we should no longer be asking: "Tell us Bill, what's your dream job?" He told us that he wanted to
rewind videotapes at Blockbuster. That seems like a very limiting position; one that is likely isolated from
other workers, is repetitious and boring, and which holds little potential for natural support development or
career and skill advancement. In truth, this "Dream Job" was the result of the Job Developer asking this question
of someone with limited life experiences (other than weekly outings to the movie theater), and it reflected the
teaching skills of the agency's personnel who could help someone master video rewinding but few tasks of more
complexity. Following the Discovery process Bill revealed that he really aspired to be a movie director, and this
opened up discussions about entertainment, acting, theatrical production, etc. Now there were many jobs open to
Bill for exploration. Focusing in on a dream job is too limiting. CE reveals themes in people's lives and is
open to combinations of interests resulting in new and diverse career directions (Griffin, Brooks-Lane, Hammis
& Crandell, in press).
What are the roles of Workforce Investment Act programs (One-Stops/Career Centers) and Vocational Rehabilitation in CE?
CE can be appropriate for anyone living a complex life and not just individuals with significant
disabilities. In this instance, we are considering people with significant disabilities. Both WIA and
VR programs are vital partners in creating wage employment and/or small business ownership. Both systems
can individually and collaboratively "braid" or amalgamate funding with other systems (CRPs or school
transition programs, for instance). As an example, one young man with a diagnosis of autism needed funds
for a small business start-up, as well as on-going support to make deliveries across town. The CRP funded
an employment specialist to do the driving several hours a day for the first year, until the young business
owner could afford to hire his own employee to do the driving; VR purchased auto repairs for a vehicle
donated by his family; and WIA, under a CE demonstration project, purchased several thousand dollars in
production equipment. In other cases, a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) can also be used in
combination with VR, CRP, and WIA funds to purchase equipment, put cash into a small business, pay for
various supports, and also to assist with the identification and maintenance of a wage job (Griffin,
Brooks-Lane, Hammis & Crandell, in press).
CE sounds creative, but what about today's Labor Market?
Over the past five years there has been a net loss of jobs in the United States. The
unemployment rate for people with disabilities, however, remains unchanged from the 1990s when
this country created over 22,000,0000 new jobs. The labor market has almost zero impact on the
employment rate of people with significant disabilities. What does have an impact is the will of
leadership at all levels to make employment a priority. The money exists, the technology and techniques
exist, and the employment opportunities exist.
CE is significantly different from competitive employment in that while competitive employment has
been brutal to people with disabilities, CE recognizes that employers are always hiring. That is, there
is always room in a company for people who match the culture and values of the company, who can perform
work of value to the company, and who perform work that is valued by the customer who then purchases the
fruits of the labor thereby creating and maintaining the employment opportunity. Without profit there
are no jobs, so matching people with duties that create revenue overshadows the power of job descriptions
that historically screen out people with significant disabilities. In essence CE demands that we focus on
economic development and job creation as the antidote to reacting to the alleged demands of the fickle labor market.
This brief article addresses a few of the more common concerns regarding CE, but many more questions
exist. For more information, please visit these websites:
References are available on request by e-mailing Cary
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