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Indiana Customized Employment:
Partnership and Collaborative Efforts
Grant number, name, and location: Indiana Customized Employment, Indianapolis IN, #E-9-4-2-0092
Grant recipient: The Indianapolis Private Industry Council is the grant recipient and Workforce Investment Board for Marion County.
Project lead: The Indianapolis Private Industry Council contracted with Stephen Savage to manage the project, which targeted three full-service One-Stop Career Centers (called WorkOnes in Indiana).
Subcontractors: Primary subcontractors included Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, Inc. and Easter Seals Crossroads.
- Involving multiple community rehabilitation providers in grant activities can foster a healthy competition for customer service delivery, create more service provider choice for customers, and expand collaboration to improve the employment outcomes of residents with disabilities.
- Development and maintenance of multiple partners (grant management/advisory team, Vocational Rehabilitation, Department of Workforce Development, Crossroads, Goodwill, Indianapolis Private Industry Council, and eventually the Thresholds project team) fosters ownership of service improvement, including those services offered in the One-Stops.
- The innovative strategies that Customized Employment offers (e.g., discovery, job creation, resource ownership, supported self-employment) are pivotal to successful employment for job seekers with significant disabilities. Time and effort should be invested in the professional development of staff to gain competence in these areas.
- Strong family support can enhance self-employment outcomes of entrepreneurs with disabilities. This can be facilitated through funds to support this employment goal, leading to the greater likelihood that families will make financial investments in a business.
There were five primary partners involved with the project: Indiana Department of Workforce Development; the public Vocational Rehabilitation program (VR); the grant recipient, the Indianapolis Private Industry Council (IPIC); and two community rehabilitation providers--Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, Inc. and Easter Seals Crossroads.
In addition to being a primary partner, during the first three years of project implementation Goodwill was also the operator and administrative entity for the WorkOnes targeted for systems change. Easter Seals Crossroads also operated a WorkOne express site.
As a project partner, Goodwill handled intake and initial case management services for project participants, and then coordinated with Easter Seals Crossroads for job development services. Easter Seals was responsible for the majority of implementation activities and had the major subcontract. This was purposefully designed to foster a healthy competition among providers, and met with anticipated challenges. Project staff included four disability resource specialists (Goodwill staff) and three employment consultants (Easter Seals Crossroads staff).
Partnerships as a Process
One of the initial activities that helped to engage partners and elicit their investment was developing a common vision at the beginning of the strategic planning process. Using PATH planning as a vehicle, the partners identified a 3-5 year vision, a goal statement, and a list of the steps required to achieve that vision. A core group from the five primary partner agencies participated in this process, with additional representatives engaged throughout the evolution of the project. This balance of representation from the partner organizations instilled a sense of ownership, created less reliance on the presence of one person within each organization, and expanded the resources available towards goal achievement.
The team found that specific strategies contributed towards active partnership development. For example, identifying partner benefits of the collaboration fostered a sense of commitment to the mission. Project leadership believed that it was important to identify mutual goals and the benefits that could be realized as a result of the collaboration underway. The VR system, for example, would benefit from the technology available through the local WorkOne. By partnering with the project, school systems would learn the most innovative and effective strategy, called Customized Employment, to assist their transition students to successfully attain employment.
Logistical factors also increased the investment of potential partners. First, meetings were held on a consistent basis and rotated throughout the various partner locations. Partner programs provided training to the larger group in their specific area(s) of expertise. Secondly, the project established ground rules so participants felt comfortable discussing concerns. Problems that arose were considered systemic and/or group problems as opposed to problems of individual partners or personnel.
This project expanded on the relationships and accomplishments of a Workforce Investment Grant that was winding down at the time of Customized Employment grant implementation. WorkOne staff had already received considerable training on disability awareness, person-first language, universal access, accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and specific disability information. For this reason, access to the WorkOnes by customers with disabilities was already on the radar screen. This knowledge, in conjunction with the technology the WorkOnes had acquired, set the stage to advance the vision to enhance employment services for customers with disabilities.
Building on Existing Partnerships
The Customized Employment grant had strong linkages with the Mayor's Office for Disability Affairs, which were strengthened through their joint efforts to establish the Indianapolis Business Leadership Network (IBLN). The Business Leadership Network is a business-led initiative supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The network's purpose is twofold: to support people with disabilities in their efforts to find gainful employment and more importantly, to promote best practices in hiring people with disabilities. In Indiana, the IBLN was the product of a successful collaboration between a group of private employers, the Mayor's Office for Disability Affairs in Indianapolis, and the Indiana Private Industry Council.
Through project leadership, community leaders came together to discuss disability awareness and inclusion practices in Indianapolis. Leaders included private employers interested in promoting the employment of people with disabilities and the Mayor's Office for Disability Affairs. As a result of this collaboration, the Mayor's Office for Disability Affairs, the Mayor's Advisory Council on Disability, and ADA-Indiana held the Mayor's Summit on Inclusion and Access in March 2002. ADA-Indiana is the state's steering committee that promotes the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The summit featured seminars and meetings on topics including resources for employees and employers in achieving workplace accommodations, emergency evacuation planning, universally accessible transportation, and rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A job fair was also part of the summit, held in conjunction with an awareness expo. The summit provided a forum for community leaders to meet and discuss disability-related issues, thus laying the foundation for the IBLN.
The strong relationship between employers and the Mayor's Office for Disability Affairs in Indianapolis played a major role in establishing this network. With the mayor's leadership, influence, contacts, and knowledge of the local community, the IBLN was able to connect and network with business leaders and Marion County politicians.
The strength of the IBLN ebbed and flowed over the life of the project. At times the Mayor's Office for Disability Affairs and the IPIC helped to strengthen the group again. Overall, the IBLN played an important role in recognizing the value that job seekers with disabilities offer employers. Each year after the original summit there was a job fair for people with disabilities that drew approximately 50 employers and 300 job seekers. Additionally, the first IBLN mentoring day was held in October 2005, with 15 businesses and 40 students participating.
Other activities at the grant start-up also contributed to the process of establishing a community focus on the employment of people with disabilities. For example, grant staff teamed up with WorkOne partners in the statewide workforce development conference. Community events were held in October in recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Focus on Key Partnerships
A number of partners worked collaboratively to leverage resources towards effective service delivery. These partners include the One-Stop operator (Goodwill Industries); VR; the Benefits Planning, Assistance, & Outreach program; and SCORE, a volunteer effort through the Small Business Administration. Below are examples of ways in which collaboration occurred.
Significant staff time was made available for joint case consultation; oversight and management was provided for staff involved in the project; and funding was provided to pay for a number of activities, including purchasing equipment and providing training to customers to use assistive technology. In the fourth year of the project, VR provided 50% of the funding for employment consultant services.
One-Stop Operator (Goodwill Industries)
Goodwill made in-kind contributions through staffing resources for employment services. Disability-specific training was provided at no cost to One-Stop staff, project partners, and the larger community; office and meeting space was available for project staff, trainings, meetings, etc. Goodwill also provided electronic connectivity for both VR and Easter Seals Crossroads staff.
Easter Seals Crossroads
Easter Seals Crossroads staff were hired as employment consultants using project dollars. They provided the majority of Customized Employment services, including: spearheading individualized PATH planning, negotiating with employers to create employment opportunities, and providing assistance with small business plan development and coordination. Staff provided management, training and meeting space, and specific expertise offered through their technology division and Deaf Community Services program.
Benefits Planning, Assistance & Outreach (BPAO) projects
BPAO staff provided intensive training to staff regarding Social Security Work Incentives, met regularly with project staff to provide updates on TWWIIA legislation and/or benefits information, supported project efforts towards the information dissemination and use of Social Security work incentives to enhance employment outcomes, and worked with the project to create a Benefits Information Network (described in detail below).
Small Business Administration (SBA) and SCORE
Partner resources were leveraged to assist project participants, as illustrated in the following case:
SBA staff provided training to staff on small business development and creating business plans. They also developed a pilot with staff to assist with project customers' business plan development. At the time of this report, approximately 20% of project participants were engaging in self-employment. The SBA regional director was very supportive of project efforts to expand services to potential entrepreneurs with significant disabilities. Through the SBA, the services of SCORE were accessed for business advice to customers establishing a small business.
One customer had continually struggled to get and keep jobs because of the cyclic nature of her mental health. Through person-centered planning activities with grant staff, she identified the goal of establishing a medical billing business. This would allow her to do the work that she enjoyed on a flexible schedule that was conducive to taking breaks when she needed them. Project staff connected the customer with the SBA, where she received assistance with writing her small business plan through a volunteer effort (SCORE). WIA dollars funded training in medical billing. She successfully completed her program, resulting in a positive WIA training outcome and acquisition of the skills she needed. Because she was eligible, VR was able to purchase the computer she needed, conduct a workstation assessment, and make modifications to help her most efficiently start her home-based business. Now she is obtaining contracts through her networks to get the base clientele for her new medical billing business.
The grant advisory council provided additional support to the project. This council, which was comprised of Indiana Department of Education staff, school personnel, families, and representatives from the mental health system, evolved into an advisory team addressing school-to-work transition issues for students with disabilities. One of their major contributions was the development of a transition workstation at the WorkOne and local schools. This user-friendly computer station used touchscreen technology and software to provide families and transition professionals with information and resources relevant to employment and the transition process.
In addition to these primary partnerships initially written into the grant, a number of others evolved over time that contributed great value towards the accomplishments. Customized Employment training and mentoring for the Indianapolis Public Schools and Washington Township Schools enhanced their employment services for students with disabilities transitioning out of high school. The grant's transition liaison provided this training and technical assistance. This role fostered communication between Washington Township and the adult disability service system. The school system was educated about the WorkOne system, and the liaison increased access to and use of the system.
The Neighborhood Self-Employment Initiative (NSI) is an established not-for-profit organization in central Indiana that assists individuals to create and develop small businesses, believing that all people should have the opportunity to pursue self-employment. As an SBA grant recipient, NSI was a fast-growing organization with a specific focus on assisting residents who have low incomes. Through this common vision, NSI made a connection with the IPIC's Customized Employment grant. From this partnership, WorkOne Centers could connect customers with disabilities who were interested in pursuing small business development with opportunities for small-business loans, business counseling, and business mentoring. Through these resources, self-employment opportunities had the potential to last beyond the grant funding period.
Benefits Planning Capacity-Building
Beginning in April 2004, the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community began a pilot project with the Indianapolis Customized Employment grant to develop a Benefits Information Network (BIN). The purpose of the network was to expedite BPAO services for individuals served through the project and enable grant staff to better identify work incentives pertinent to individuals as they supported them in the workplace.
Eight grant staff members received information and intensive training on federal and state work incentives, referral processes, benefits screening and profiling, and access to beneficiaries' release of information from the Social Security Administration via a Benefits Planning Query. Using a team approach, there was ongoing communication between the beneficiary, grant staff, and the benefits counselor.
As a result of this collaboration, benefits planners assisted more individuals with information and benefits planning services, and WorkOne customers had easy access to information about how work might impact their Social Security disability benefits. This was particularly important because many WorkOne customers sought services from partners who were Employment Network providers under the Ticket to Work program, such as Goodwill Industries and VR. This newly developed expertise could serve as an additional resource to the public VR system. VR clients could realize a shorter path to employment through Purchase of Service Agreements (POSAs) with vendors who were certified with the BIN.
A concerted effort was made to enhance the capacity of the WorkOnes and community rehabilitation providers to provide employment services to job seekers with disabilities. Generally, One-Stop staff did not have experience in this area. For this reason, the grant provided Customized Employment and disability issues training to One-Stop staff and community partners approximately once per month throughout the grant funding period. The project developed a "CE 101" curriculum and provided it to local community providers, the community mental health center, VR staff, and the local school system (including school job coaches). Efforts had also begun to incorporate Customized Employment training into the concurrent statewide supported employment training program.
Having national experts available to provide training through project funding provided an effective means to share the most innovative employment practices and strategies for overcoming challenges. Grantees grappling with similar issues were also available for training and support.