The employment levels of people with disabilities are consistently low. “Only one-third (32.0%) of working-age people with disabilities were employed on average in the 2010-2012 period, compared to over two-thirds (72.7%) of people without disabilities”. Yet at the same time, businesses face gaps in their workforce that can be successfully filled by individuals with disabilities. There is an urgent need for cross-agency collaboration that embraces a shared vision and mission focused on youth and families to support more equitable employment of individuals with disabilities. To that end, Opportunity Partners, a local nonprofit assisting individuals with disabilities in a variety of supportive services including employment, has launched the Together Works Better (TWB) initiative to create a bold new model of employment services that enhances community integration and dramatically boosts competitive employment rates for people with disabilities.
To inform the creation of pilot projects, Rainbow Research designed an iterative process to gather feedback from multiple stakeholders to identify the challenges and opportunities around finding and retaining employment for individuals with disabilities. Each phase of feedback was used to inform both the next phase of feedback and data collection as well as the identification and focus of pilot projects. Overall, 44 stakeholders including: local leaders in the disability services sector, individuals with cognitive/developmental disabilities and their families, Opportunity Partners staff, and local business representatives from food and senior services, retail, janitorial, and manufacturing sectors participated in interviews or focus groups to share their perspectives and recommendations.
Through this process, four key areas surfaced as recommendations for potential pilots: workplace engagement, family and informal support systems, transportation and access, and holistic integration of services. Rainbow Research facilitated the OP staff pilot planning team through various conversations and activities to explore the feasibility, interest, and urgency of each pilot area. Rainbow Research also worked with the pilot planning team to articulate intended outcomes and activities for each pilot area. The OP staff pilot planning team ultimately designed an initial pilot to improve workplace engagement through the creation of trained coworker mentors, short term internship placement, and disability awareness training for worksites. This pilot seeks to improve the employment and long-term retention of individuals with cognitive disabilities by enhancing the natural workplace engagement.
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Data was collected in a sequential fashion. After data collection with each target audience (local leaders, individuals with disabilities and their families, OP staff, local business representatives), Rainbow Research summarized and presented findings to the Together Works Better planning team. Before proceeding to the next level of data collection, the planning team synthesized the information and refined what specific questions needed to be asked of the next audience. This information was used to refine the vision and continually narrow the scope until a single pilot was developed. In this way, feedback from one target audience informed and was shared with the audience of the next group.