What is Supported Employment & Other Burning Questions

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What is supported employment & Other Burning Questions

What is supported employment?

Supported Employment (SE) allows for people with disabilities to obtain and maintain employment with the help of an employment specialist.  The Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) most commonly provides supported employment to eligible clients; however, qualified clients of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) can receive one-on-one support on a short-term basis.

Most people with developmental disabilities want to be productive members of their communities!

Is there more than one type of Employment?

There are two types of supported employment, individualized and group. Individual Employment (IE) allows job seekers to obtain and maintain integrated employment at or above minimum wage. Individualized employment is most commonly associated with a person-centered approach. That is to say, the person with disabilities acts as the driving force.

Example: Amy loves animals and wants to work at a pet store. However, after job shadowing at a pet store and discovering she would have to clean out cages, she decides she is no longer interested. The job coach asks Amy questions about why she wanted to work with animals and discovers that she likes petting them. The job coach takes Amy to a retailer and shows her how to fold and smooth the clothes on the display tables. Amy has a blast! With the help of her job coach, she gets a job at a retailer next door to an animal shelter. After work, Amy volunteers at the shelter where she feeds and plays with the cats and dogs.

Group Supported Employment (GSE) provides ongoing supervision and shared support for a maximum of eight people with disabilities in a community setting. The intent of GSE is that individual job placement will result from the professional support provided.

Example: Michael loves working outside in his garden and dreams of becoming a landscaper; however, when he applies for jobs, he gets rejected because he does not have a driver’s license. Michael eventually applies to and is hired by an employment agency that contracts with colleges to provide landscaping services. As a result of his work, the employment agency that holds the contract pays Michael. Michael learns how to operate a riding lawn mower, becomes confident enough to obtain his driver’s license, and, six months later, is hired full-time by the college.

Did you know? Thanks to SB 5284, by July 2023, no more subminimum wage certificates will be issued in Washington State!

“Job Coach” and “Job Developer” are often used interchangeably; are they the same?

Yes, and no. Let me explain. Job coaching (helping a person maintain employment) differs from job development (assisting a person in finding work), but it is the employment agency that decides whether or not they divide their staff into separate parties (job developers and job coaches) or cross-train their employees to do both job development and job coaching.

Let’s pretend Molly is a new job seeker. After an initial intake with the program manager, Molly meets her job developer, Karen. Karen helps Molly research and apply for jobs she is interested in. Karen then follows up with each of the businesses they applied to. When Molly gets an interview at the bowling alley, she invites Karen to sit in with her. Two days later, Molly gets a call from the hiring manager offering her the job.  Model 1. Karen introduces Molly to her job coach, John, and tells Molly that John will work with her at the bowling alley. Model 2. Karen continues to work with Molly at the bowling alley.

There are pros and cons associated with each model, which I will not get into right now, but if having a consistent job coach is important to you, don’t be afraid to ask the employment agency ahead of time!

With all that being said, you can refer to the professional as a Job Coach, whether or not they are currently “job coaching;” they will know what you mean! What is the proper name? Agencies use different titles, but the most common are Employment Consultant (EC), Employment Professional (EP), and Employment Specialist (ES).

Where do I find a List of Employment agencies in my area?

DDA clients, as well as DVR clients, can choose a local employment agency to receive services from. For a complete list of employment agencies in Spokane County, review the Participant Guide by the Spokane County Community Services, Housing, and Community Development Department (CSHCD). If you live outside of Spokane County, contact your nearest DDA office or DVR office for a list of providers. Find your nearest office here.

Keep in mind, the intent of supported employment is not to provide lifelong support. The job coach’s goal is to essentially work themselves out of a job by providing clients with all the accommodations and natural support they need to work independently.

A good fit is essential to success, so do not hesitate to interview several providers before making a decision!

What does it mean to be an “Employment First State?”

An Employment First state means that employment in the general workforce should be the first and preferred option for individuals with disabilities. In Washington, a person must seek employment for nine months before accessing other community supports, such as Community Inclusion (CI) or Community Engagement (CE). Read more about CI and CE here: Community Engagement & Inclusion Services.

“The workforce participation rate for individuals with disabilities is about 1/3 that of people without disabilities. The low employment rate for people has been increasingly recognized as a serious societal issue, with over 13 million adults of working age in the United States receiving disability benefits from Social Security. Yet, it has been continuously shown that many more people with disabilities can work successfully in the community with assistance, accommodations, and encouragement.”

Map of employment



Additional Resources

Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE)

Employment Support Services for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

DDA: Employment and Day Programs

About DVR + Resources

Supported Employment 101


Have other burning questions? Contact me by email at kboik@soarbehavior.com or comment below.


For more blog posts by SOAR Behavior Services, visit soarbehaviorwa.com/family-resources.

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