Discovery: Focusing on Strengths, Gifts, Talents and Skills for Inclusive Work
The systems that provide funding for disability services and supports are rooted within a deficit-based viewpoint. To qualify for Social Security Income, Medicaid and vocational rehabilitation services, we have to be evaluated as having “functional limitations” and/or gaps in “activities of daily living.”
There has to be something “wrong” and “fixable” in order to receive funding. While this is necessary for a system to provide services and supports for people with significant disabilities, it isn’t very helpful once that determination has been made, especially when employment is the goal.
A better approach is something known as Discovery, a type of person-centered career planning that focuses on a job seeker’s strengths, gifts, talents and skills rather than deficits and problems. As we search for suitable employment, all of us downplay our weaknesses, and tend to highlight our strengths. Yet many job seekers with disabilities are evaluated in a human service setting, and then prescribed a set of goals to remove the identified issues that need improvement.
In contrast, in the Discovery process, a team helps identify the job seeker’s most positive traits and follows those up with a focused set of job development activities. Instead of relying solely on jobs that are advertised or posted, the team searches for an employment culture that resembles the job seeker’s strengths, skills and interests, and begins getting to know the businesses through tours, interviews and social capital building. Thereafter, a process of negotiation is undertaken where ideal conditions of employment are the focus, including identifying tasks, contributions and duties that will be expected. This process has been called Customized Employment (CE). It is defined by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 as, “Competitive integrated employment, for an individual with a significant disability, that is based on an individualized determination of the strengths, needs and interests of the individual with a significant disability, designed to meet the specific abilities of the individual with a significant disability and the business needs of the employer, and carried out through flexible strategies.”
The final implementation date of WIOA was July 1, 2016, making CE a standard service and support, which a state vocational rehabilitation agency should be capable of offering along with its intellectual and developmental disability partners. This policy development creates a pathway to employment for those job seekers with disabilities who for too long have been evaluated as “not employable.”
We have a great deal of work to do so that Georgia citizens with the most significant disabilities are offered the tools and supports necessary to work in an inclusive workforce. We can all start with focusing on the positive rather than the negative. A father at a recent conference put this most succinctly, stating: “Shouldn’t our systems and funding be centered on how a person with a disability can work, rather than why they cannot?”
Families, counselors, job seekers and educators can start now by learning about Discovery, CE and person-centered supports. Planning for an inclusive workforce starts with highlighting and capturing a job seeker’s most positive contributions!
Doug Crandell is a senior consultant with Griffin-Hammis Associates, Inc., and on the faculty of the Institute on Human Development and Disability at the University of Georgia. For the last four years, Doug has provided training and technical assistance to Georgia’s supported providers through a joint effort with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. He is a subject matter expert with the Office of Disability Employment Policy in Washington, DC and is currently working with several states to restructure their employment supports to include evidence-based supported employment, customized employment and self-employment. Crandell was one of the many presenters at the Georgia Evolution Conference.
Discovery and Customized Employment: http://www.leadcenter.org/system/files/resource/downloadable_version/CE-and-Group-Discovery-FAQs.pdf
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