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Work is an important way to participate in the community and economy. The majority of Coloradans of working age are employed. Through employment people cultivate and apply talents, meet others, accomplish goals and gain the resources to live and build the futures they imagine. People who are not participating in the labor force miss out on many of these developmental milestones and frequently face isolation and financial hardship. Lower rates of labor force participation have persisted among people with disabilities in general, and people with the most significant disabilities in particular. Just because this has been true doesn’t mean it must continue to be.
Possibilities flow from what we believe and what we expect. Attitudes evolve and so do expectations. That is how innovation occurs, people look at old issues in new ways.
Employment First is a philosophy and a policy paradigm based on practical but innovative thinking about employment for people with the most significant disabilities. Proponents of the Employment First philosophy contend that prior to opting out of a career, people with all types or degrees of disabilities should be provided appropriate information, encouragement, supports and services to learn how they can meet the business needs employers present. Advocates for Employment First believe that all people should be given meaningful, individualized opportunities to explore the world of work, to discover how they might contribute, and to chart a course to employment and greater prosperity. People who want to work, deserve a path to opportunity. What they make of the opportunity depends on them.
What’s innovative about the Employment First policy paradigm is that it doesn’t support one way of going to work for people without disabilities and a separate or discreet path to work for people with disabilities. It’s true that workers with disabilities have a range of needs and challenges on the road to work but it is also the case that all workers are unique and have needs. People with disabilities are no more or less special than anyone else. Just as it doesn’t make sense to segregate the labor force by age, gender or race, proponents of Employment First support a labor force that fully integrates people with and without disabilities as peers where all workers earn minimum wage or better.
In June 2016, Governor Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 16-077 into law making Colorado the latest in a group of 19 states to adopt an Employment First paradigm. The law establishes the Employment First Advisory Partnership (EFAP), a collaboration between the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, the Colorado Department of Higher Education, Colorado Department of Human Services and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment through September 2021. The collaboration also includes representatives with disabilities seeking supported employment, representatives of families of people with disabilities, representatives of those advocating for people with intellectual disabilities as well as others focused on cross-disability interests.
The State Rehabilitation Council was assigned lead agency responsibility for developing, convening and administering the Employment First Advisory Partnership. According to the requirements in law the SRC:
Employment First Advisory Partnership Report
Meetings are open to the public. Please contact Augusta Klimek at email@example.com for more information or reasonable accommodation.