Employment First Overview
Employment First is a nationwide movement advocating for the employment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The employment first movement began to challenge perceptions about people with disabilities. Historically, the IDD population was overlooked in employment because of inaccurate perceptions and understandings about people with disabilities. The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) became an Employment First agency in 2011 in alignment with the department’s mission to support lifelong planning and create meaningful opportunities for the individuals it serves.
At DDS, Employment First means commitment to ensuring that individuals who identify employment as their first and preferred option have support accessing community-based integrated employment and services. The department’s initiative ensures that employment is part of the conversation when individuals and their family are planning for the future. No individual will be forced to leave a day or senior service as a result of the employment first initiative. Rather, employment will be brought to the table as an option for every individual supported by the department. The department ensures self-determination, meaning that the individuals we serve have the ultimate say in the services and programs they pursue. Learn more about self-determination, and the DDS Self-Determination Division here.
Connecticut is one of more than 40 states with an employment first policy, law, or initiative advocating for the employment of individuals with disabilities. Connecticut is involved with multiple organizations that promote the employment of individuals with disabilities and best practices within this field. The state is a member of the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) and the State Employment Leadership Network (SELN). The Department works with these organizations and others to further employment for those with disabilities in Connecticut.
The Employment & Day Services Division is currently involved in an Employment Services Strategic Planning Committee with members from all stakeholder groups. The Committee was created to analyze the SELN Finding & Observations Report on DDS’ Employment Services. The report commends strengths, reviews areas of improvement, and makes recommendations for action.
Foundations of Employment First
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) does not require states to adopt an Employment First Policy. However, Home and Community Based Service (HCBS) waiver regulations require states to assure services are integrated and offered in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employment First policies align the state with the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 § 12101.328(a)(7) that identify “economic self-sufficiency” as the preferred outcome for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the United States. Competitive employment provides income for an individual’s basic needs and contributes to one’s self-worth, independence, self-respect, and self-identity. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) §1401(34)(A)(1-3) & §1405 also instructs states to insure employment as an outcome of transition from school to adult life for individuals with disabilities.
The creation of Employment First policies can help align states with Home and Community Based Services waiver regulations, such as § 441.301(c)(2)(i) & § 441.301(c)(4)(i), which both specify that individuals receiving CMS Home and Community Based Services must have opportunities to seek employment and work in competitive integrated settings. In a letter dated March 3, 2020, the U.S. Deputy of Labor provided Governor Ned Lamont suggested enhancements to Connecticut’s state disability employment policy, recommending “policies that optimize resources and services that reflect the Employment First policy.” Employment provides a sense of accomplishment, creates opportunities for social interaction and career advancement, and leads to meaningful relationships in the community. The adoption of an Employment First policies and procedures links the agency’s mission to these principles and aligns the Department with Federal Regulations.