Mark Hassemer

Mark Hassemer

Dear friends of ACT:

The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) categorizes some services for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) into four quadrants:

  • Facility based work,
  • Facility based non-work,
  • Community based work, and
  • Community based non-work.

National disability policy makers have been shifting greater emphasis to community based employment, away from facility based work. We’ve been on that path with them. Last spring, ACT closed its recycling program, a facility based work program. The time was right. And the results show it.

Job seekers here are now on one track. Their employment option is moving toward community based work.

Community based work is now well understood and well defined. Competitive integrated employment is “full time or part time work at minimum wage or higher, with wages and benefits similar to those without disabilities performing the same work, and fully integrated with coworkers without disabilities.”

As these employment approaches mature, we’re seeing a similar evolution in non-work programs and projects. Community based non-work (CBNW) services (not at a facility) are on the grow and receiving more attention, support, and publicity.

CBNW is maturing, too. Along with others in our field we’re seeing and acting on a need to move beyond simply taking people with IDDs into the community. The Director of our Day Program, Craig Valone, made a striking remark about this just last week. He said, “If we are taking groups of 4 or 5 individuals out in the community but not truly interacting, then we are merely tourists in a land that isn’t our own.”

This new depth and breadth of non-work involvement in the community has been tagged Community Life Engagement (CLE).

CLE is about supporting people with IDDs while they access and participate in their communities outside of employment as part of a meaningful day.

Meaningful day means just what it says. Peoples’ days are not occupied just with work, though work is fulfilling and affords us many freedoms and choices.

CLE also includes volunteer work; postsecondary, adult, or continuing education; accessing community facilities like a local library, gym, or recreation center; participation in retirement or senior activities; and anything else people with and without disabilities do in their off time.

Our day program at ACT does a lot of this already. But we can do more.

Here’s what’s new, really new. We’re starting to throw off the baggage of organizational silos and program history. We’re starting to understand that any one of the persons to whom we provide services can move beyond the false dichotomy that says you must choose one or the other. He or she can have both.

One can be active in the community and be employed. Our services, our plans, our approaches, our person-centered focus needs to include this new dimension that goes beyond program definitions.

Jessica Mahon, Director of Employment Services, said, “Moving in this direction gives us the opportunity to be even more individualized and allow people to have multiple service needs met in a more flexible and seamless manner.”

Before, we would typically design a person’s day around participation in either the day program or a work program. On occasion, we got creative and someone would participate in both a day and work program. But sadly, it was an exception.

It’s time to look at things differently. Participation in a work service, such as career development, should not preclude one from also participating in a day program that emphasizes community life engagement. Let’s take on a blended approach and create that meaningful day that everyone wants, regardless of disability status.

So what’s next?

States are beginning to emphasize community life engagement activities. But we lack an accepted definition of CLE (like the competitive integrated employment definition above) that will help us design and implement services. Information on structure, activities, and successful outcomes of CLE services is still needed. We don’t yet have metrics or other measures of quality. We lack a complete understanding of ideal staffing ratios. We need to get a handle on group size and the proportion of time spent in the community.

It’s easier to define acceptable outcomes for employment. But our field is behind on defining non-work outcomes.

So now it’s time to press forward with these ideals in mind. We’ll learn as we go, as we confer and collaborate, and as we keep in mind what’s best for the people we serve.

Until next month,