CIF Participates in Customized Employment Initiative

May 15, 2015

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor reported employment rates of just 17.8 percent for individuals with a disability, in contrast to 63.9 percent for those without a disability. This discrepancy has consequences. Individuals with disabilities experience the highest rates of poverty of any subcategory of Americans, according to the 2013 U.S. Census.

For many, however, employment is more than simply a path to economic stability. Center for Independent Futures understands that for individuals with disabilities, employment means access to income, independence, and inclusion. That’s why CIF is proud to participate as one of six Illinois organizations selected for an initiative to develop Customized Employment in integrated settings for individuals with disabilities.

Customized Employment matches the specific talents of an individual to an unmet need in the workplace, resulting in a relationship that benefits both employer and employee. “We expect this approach to transform employment among individuals with disabilities who work in Illinois,” says Ann Sickon, CIF’s Executive Director.

Through this initiative, CIF has hired Sarah Holtschlag as a Customized Employment Specialist. After receiving her Masters in Social Work from University of Illinois at Chicago, Sarah worked as an employment counselor for refugees and later with individuals with disabilities. The benefits of employment, Sarah shares, go beyond simply earning a wage. For individuals with disabilities, having a job includes the opportunities of contributing their gifts and talents, interacting with others, supporting their community through taxes, and being held to the same standards as co-workers.

The foundation of the Customized Employment approach, based on the model created by Marc Gold & Associates, is the comprehensive discovery process. In the discovery process, Sarah spends time with job seekers in different settings to get to know their strengths, contributions, and preferences. Then, she creates a profile with each individual to capture this information and engages job seekers’ personal networks to brainstorm ideas for a person-centered employment plan.

“Understanding the individual in a holistic way provides me with creative employment solutions,” Sarah explains. “The person-centered approach and process of discovery present me with the individual's strengths, which I translate into marketable skills that meet workplace needs.”

This new initiative coincides with the growing importance of Employment First, a national framework for systems change that places employment in the community as the primary service option for individuals with disabilities. Employment First became law in Illinois in July 2013, when Governor Pat Quinn signed the Employment First Act to require state agencies to prioritize employment for people with disabilities. By adopting the Customized Employment approach, Center for Independent Futures remains at the forefront of innovating new solutions for full lives.

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