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The first definition of supported employment in legislation was in the Developmental Disabilities Act of 1984 (P.L. 98–527). Supported employment is:

  • paid employment for persons with developmental disabilities for whom competitive employment at or above minimum wage is unlikely and who need ongoing support to perform in a work setting.

  • conducted in a variety of settings in which persons without disabilities are employed, and

  • supported by any activity needed to sustain paid work including supervision, training, and transportation.

Developmental Disabilities Act of 1984 (P.L. 98–527):

  • The purpose of the Act was expanded to include assisting persons with developmental disabilities to achieve their maximum potential through increased independence, productivity and integration into the community. It shifted priority attention to employment related services and supported employment. Each person receiving services under the Act was required to have an individual habilitation plan.

  • The 1986 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PL 99-506) strongly supported the implementation of supported employment. The Rehabilitation Services Administration purposively engaged in a systems change model with the use of demonstration grants. Title III demonstration grants were awarded on a competitive basis starting in 1986 to encourage the conversion of traditional segregated day programs to supported employment programs as alternative vocational options. Title VI Part C funds were available for all states to use specifically for supported employment services.

  • The 1986 Amendments clarified that supported employment is a viable outcome of vocational rehabilitation. Both sheltered and support employment,  in addition to competitive employment, were indicators of success. This transformation of perspective would not be complete until 2000 when "extended employment" in sheltered settings would be excluded as a successful outcome.
Individuals working in the community
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden
Individuals working in the community
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden
Man smiling
Photo courtesy Ann Marsden