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AL-APSE, Association for Persons Supporting Employment First

Best Practices

Best Practices in Supported Employment

Customer, Not Consumer

The most significant change is how people with disabilities perceive themselves, and what they want from their relationships with professionals. The "customer's" concept represents a change in thinking and is part of the evolutionary process occurring nationally. Today, people with disabilities seeking community integrated competitive employment are referring to themselves as customers. They are still saying that they want and need the assistance of a professional to obtain and maintain competitive employment. However, what they are demanding is for supported employment services to be developed, marketed, and delivered based upon what would best fit the customer's needs, rather than what is convenient to the existing service system.

Many individuals with disabilities have characterized their typical relationships with human service and/or rehabilitation professionals as paternalistic or as a "professionals know best" attitude. This general air of condescension toward individuals with disabilities has many negative and far reaching implications which ultimately affect the ability for them to direct their own lives and become fully integrated into their communities. When professionals view persons with disabilities as "helpless," employers, family members, and the general public accept this same attitude. The result is the continuation of negative attitudes and stereotypical images of persons with disabilities throughout the general public.

This same paternalistic attitude exists in the field of supported employment. Many rehabilitation counselors, case managers, job coaches, and program managers have been delivering supported employment services and engaging in practices that directly or indirectly transmit a message to persons with disabilities that "we, the professionals, are in charge." Nationally, such complaints as "he just doesn't appreciate the job that I got him" or "if only I didn't have to deal with her family" are common statements made by professionals. All too often, these professionals are making decisions for consumers.

Professionals who engage in this type of behavior are imposing their values or the agency's values on the people receiving services. When this occurs, the rights of people with disabilities are violated. Fortunately, this method of "doing business" is coming to an end. People with disabilities are speaking out, taking control of their lives, and seeking to direct the services they need. This current movement of people with disabilities asserting choice and control over their destinies is having a major impact on supported employment services and has led to a "customer-driven approach" to supported employment.

Customer Resources

Personal Assistance in the Workplace: A Customer-Directed Guide (Full text Manual) -

VCU - NTC WIPA - Information on Advocacy Skills and The Social Security Administration,

Get a Job! How Employment Affects Your Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid Benefits (PDF)


Source: VCU - RRTC on Workplace Supports

AL-APSE, The Network on Employment

PO Box 240691
Montgomery, AL 36124

This site is made possible by a grant from the Alabama Council for Developmental Disabilities