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Employment First for Individuals with Disabilities

Employment First is an initiative dedicated to ensuring that individuals with disabilities, their families, their support teams, and service providers have the resources and information they need to be successful. On this page, we’ve collected a variety of state, regional, and national resources to assist you in your educational and employment journey. In addition, you’ll find information about more general services and supports to help you achieve an independent life in your community.

Education & Learning Support

Entitlement vs. Eligibility – Student Support Services
School-age students with a disability receiving special education services are ENTITLED to receive services to access a free appropriate public education as outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Once a student exits school, eligibility for services and supports is determined through the requirements of agencies outside of the school system. PaTTAN’s helpful Entitlement vs. Eligibility fact sheet describes the differences between entitlement and eligibility for services.

Summary for Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (SAAFP) Worksheet
The SAAFP worksheet, which parents and their children can complete together, is designed to be a useful and relevant document to assist students in the transition from high school to higher education, training, employment, and independent living.

Promoting Independent Living While Still in School
There are many aspects of independence for a young person with a disability and family members to consider. This family friendly 1-page guide addresses examples of activities in the school, home, and community that parents and family members can discuss with their youth.

Exploring the Option of a Two- or Four-Year College
When considering a two or four-year college, it is important for youth to self-advocate for needs and live as independently as possible. This family friendly 1-page guide describes considerations for discussions family members may have with youth considering college options.

Preparing Your Child for Employment
Visit PaTTAN’s website to download the Preparing for Employment fact sheet for recommendations and tips on how to prepare your child for employment. When family members are involved, their children with disabilities experience greater success in education and employment.

Pennsylvania Secondary Transition Guide
Having the opportunity to get and keep a job is an important part of life for us all. Youth and young adults with disabilities may benefit from services and supports to overcome barriers. The Secondary Transition Guide provides resources, including agency information, services, and supports, to facilitate youth employment.

Job Skills Training for Youth with Disabilities
Learning and practicing job skills while youth are still in school helps youth with disabilities to be more successful at finding and maintaining employment. Depending on the needs and strengths of the youth there are many different ways these skills can be taught. Learn more about techniques and get examples of how to help with the Job Skills: Getting Ready for Work fact sheet.

Employment & Job Skills Support

Office of Vocational Rehabilitation
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry’s (L&I) Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, or OVR, provides vocational rehabilitation services to help persons with disabilities prepare for, obtain, or maintain employment. OVR provides services to eligible individuals with disabilities, both directly and through a network of approved vendors. Services are provided on an individualized basis. The OVR counselor, during face-to-face interviews, assists customers in selecting their choice of vocational goals, services, and service providers. Learn more about the services and supports OVR can offer at www.dli.pa.gov.

Department of Human Services
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) offers a wide variety of employment and job skill services and supports for individuals with disabilities. Each Program Office offers a unique set of services specifically designed for the populations they serve. You can learn more about the employment related services and supports DHS offers at www.dhs.pa.gov.

Resources for Individuals with Disabilities
PAsmart is a one-stop collection of many state resources for individuals with disabilities looking for employment services or supports. Visit PAsmart.gov to get the help you need to achieve your job goals.

Why Work?
Work is an important part of people’s lives. It means more than just getting paid. It means being able to make your own choices about how you want to live your life. The Importance of Employment: Why Work? fact sheet provides recommendations on what to discuss with your son or daughter on the benefits of employment.

Customized Employment
Customized employment is a flexible process designed to personalize the employment relationship between a job candidate and an employer in a way that meets the needs of both. Download the Customized Employment fact sheet from PaTTAN’s website to learn more about this individualized approach to employment planning.

U.S. Social Security – Ticket to Work Program
Social Security’s Ticket to Work program supports career development for Social Security disability beneficiaries ages 18 through 64 who want to work. This free and voluntary program helps people with disabilities progress toward financial independence. Learn more about the program at www.choosework.ssa.gov.

National Alliance on Mental Illness
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Find support and get resources to overcome the challenges of living with a mental health condition at https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Living-with-a-Mental-Health-Condition. In addition, NAMI’s Public Policy Platform provides a well-rounded view of how individuals with mental illness can be successful in the workplace and beyond. Learn more at https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Public-Policy.

Daily Living Support & Services

Autism Resources in PA
The Autism Services, Education, Resources and Training (ASERT) website brings all autism resources together. Learn about events, support groups, eLearning opportunities, and more at paautism.org.

Understanding Self-Advocacy
Self-advocacy means that a person understands her/his rights and responsibilities. This family friendly Understanding Self-Advocacy guide provides family members basic information to share with their youth about self-advocacy.

Charting the LifeCourseTM The Charting the LifeCourseTM resources, tools, and training materials assist persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities, their families, and direct support professionals. Charting the LifeCourseTM aims to maximize strengths and unique abilities to achieve inclusion in all facets of community life.

General Support Services

Financial Management Education
The Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation helps individuals with disabilities manage their personal finances and control their financial future. Learn more and download their guide to money management, Cents and Sensibility.

In addition, PaTTAN helps youth, young adults with disabilities, and their families get a handle on their financial future. The Financial Fundamentals: Discussion Starters fact sheet provides six topics to help get the conversation started on what to know and how to manage money.

PA ABLE gives individuals with qualified disabilities and their families a tax-free way to save for disability-related expenses while maintaining government benefits. Learn more at: www.paable.gov.

Medical Assistance Benefits for Workers with Disabilities
For people with disabilities, finding a job or returning to work can be a challenge. For a long time one of the biggest obstacles to working was health care coverage. Earning too much money meant risking losing health care benefits. However, there is an option: Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD). Learn more on DHS’ website at www.dhs.pa.gov/Services/Assistance/Pages/MA-for-Disabled-Workers

Day-to-Day Services for Persons with Disabilities
Pennsylvania offers a wide variety of services and public benefits for people who need help in their day-to-day lives with things like heating during the winter, healthcare, food and nutrition, and child care. You can find more information and apply for these and other benefits online through COMPASS or you can find your local county assistance office and apply in person.

Legal Resources

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including State and local governments. It also applies to employment agencies and to labor organizations. More information related to employment and the ADA can be found at www.ada.gov/ada_title_I.

Disability Rights Pennsylvania (DRP)
DRP provides help to Pennsylvanians with disabilities who are experiencing problems or need help. DRP helps people with abuse and neglect, community services, discrimination, ADA compliance, education, assistive technology, and more. The help can include information, referral to other organizations, advocacy and legal action. DRP also provides help on legal issues to attorneys and provides education and training on a variety of issues. For help with employment related issues, visit www.disabilityrightspa.org/resources/#employment.

For information on disability employment policy and laws, please visit the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s Resource Page.

Visit the U.S. Department of Labor's Laws & Regulations Page for a summary of disability laws and regulations.

Additional Labor & Industry Support Services

The Office for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing (ODHH) is an office within L&I that serves all 67 counties. ODHH is your first stop on the path to learn about anything and everything related to hearing loss, such as services, technology, sign language interpreters, or laws that require equal access for people who are deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing.

The Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS) assists Pennsylvanians who are blind or visually impaired in gaining the skills necessary to live and work independently in their communities. BBVS is also an office within L&I and serves the entire state.

For more services and resources, check out L&I’s List of Disability Resources page.

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