A Framework for Community Engagement – A Pathway to Competitive Integrated Employment

Introduction

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services has released a new brief paper aimed at policymakers and service providers. This paper presents a shared Federal vision for community engagement. Developed in partnership with the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, this paper explains why this vision is important and how it can lead to better employment outcomes. It also identifies the types of supports required and available through multiple service systems to facilitate community engagement for individuals with disabilities, including youth.

What Is Community Engagement?

Community engagement is described as participation in activities in the community chosen by individuals with disabilities that offer meaningful opportunities for learning and expanding skills critical to employment and independent living. Community engagement activities provide opportunities to:

  • Build relationships and social networks
  • Sharpen workplace social skills
  • Learn work skills

Effective Community Engagement

The framework outlines ways to effectively expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities through community engagement. Community engagement should be:

  • Individualized: Successful community engagement activities are based on each individual’s choices, interests, strengths, and needs.
  • Interactive: There is a difference between simply existing in a community and actively participating in it. Individuals with disabilities should interact with other community members of their choice, fostering routine interactions and shared experiences that help cultivate and strengthen a sense of purpose directed toward personal goals.
  • Supported: Facilitation, coaching, and mentoring are essential for effective community engagement. Service providers play a crucial role in making it easier for people with disabilities to access community services and activities consistent with their individual goals. They offer coaching during interactions and activities and connect individuals with community members who may offer additional coaching and mentoring.

Service Systems That Support Community Engagement

The framework includes information on various service delivery systems and programs that support community engagement, such as:

  • Special education
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Medicaid-funded home and community-based services
  • Workforce development
  • Mental health services
  • Social security

Depending on their eligibility, individuals with disabilities may receive services such as:

  • Assessment
  • Prevocational and occupational skills training
  • Postsecondary education
  • Assistive technology
  • Transportation
  • Job development
  • Work-based learning experiences

These services are designed to assist individuals in obtaining competitive integrated employment.

Conclusion

Maximizing opportunities for community engagement through collaborative and coordinated service planning and delivery is crucial for keeping individuals on the path to competitive integrated employment. By focusing on personal interests and goals, and utilizing a variety of support systems, individuals with disabilities can build the skills and networks needed for successful employment and independent living. This framework provides a comprehensive approach to achieving these outcomes.

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