Action Center ➞ Issue Tracker ➞ Real Work for Real Pay ➞ Employment First
Employment First is an idea about how to help people with disabilities get good jobs. Employment First says that the government should help every person with a disability who wants to work find real jobs in the community for real money. Some states have their own Employment First laws. This page will tell you more about what Employment First is, what state Employment First laws are like, and how you can join the fight for real work for people with disabilities.
What Employment First Is
Employment First is an idea. Employment First says that the government should help every person with a disability who wants to work find a real job in the community for real money.
That means that:
- Disabled people should be able to work if we want to.
- Disabled people should be able to work in our communities. We should be able to work in the same place as non-disabled people.
- Disabled people should be able to get the supports we need to work.
- Disabled people should get the same wage that non-disabled people do.
- Disabled people should get real work for real pay as the first choice, instead of the government trying something else before it tries that.
In the toolkit “Real Work for Real Pay: A Self Advocate’s Guide to Employment Policy,” we talk a lot about what Employment First is. You can get more information on Employment First by reading it.
Why It Matters
Employment First is important because lots of people think that people with disabilities who need a lot of support cannot work at a real job. Because of these wrong ideas, companies do not give people with disabilities a chance. Instead, disabled people end up working in segregated places like sheltered workshops.
Sheltered workshops are bad for us. People with disabilities in sheltered workshops perform the same task over and over. They work in places where there are no workers without disabilities. They make less than minimum wage — which is the smallest amount that your boss is allowed to pay you for your work.
Most of us want real jobs in the community. Employment First is an idea that helps us get those jobs instead of jobs in sheltered workshops.
Employment First is not just an idea that nobody listens to. The U.S. government is committed to Employment First. This means that it has to try and set up its government agencies and programs so that when people with disabilities are trying to find jobs, integrated employment is always the first choice offered. This means Employment First is an idea that makes change happen for the better.
The Government and Employment First
The U.S. Department of Labor does employment policy for the United States government.
The U.S. government supports Employment First. The main ways it supports it is by:
- Changing U.S. government agency policies to be more like Employment First
- Making sure the state governments know about Employment First
- Making sure that state agencies that help people get jobs make integrated employment the first choice for people with disabilities
A part of the U.S. Department of Labor – the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) – works on Employment First.
ODEP helps other U.S. government agencies, like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid. ODEP works with state Medicaid agencies and writes documents that tell them that Medicaid money can be used to help people get jobs.1
American Job Centers (AJCs) should follow Employment First. AJCs give job training, support, free Internet job search access and other services to people who are trying to find a job. WIOA said they should be the place people looking for jobs go for a lot of the help they need. WIOA also says that AJCs have to give us equal access to their services.2
AJCs should work with ODEP to make sure, when working with people with disabilities, that they work with us and help us get lots of different integrated jobs to meet our needs. AJCs should work together with vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies. Doing both of these things will help AJCs make Employment First a reality.
Vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies help people with disabilities get jobs. Vocational rehabilitation agencies have to try helping people with disabilities get integrated employment and not segregated employment. This is part of what it means for the government to make integrated employment the first choice for people with disabilities.
You can advocate for Employment First by telling the government you want it to support our right to real jobs for real money. You can call the U.S. Department of Labor or ODEP and tell them you support their work on Employment First.
State Employment First Laws
Over 35 states have some kind of Employment First law. 21 of these states say that integrated employment is the first choice for people with disabilities. This means that the state tries to change their agencies and policies to make it easier for people with disabilities to get real jobs.3 For example:
Illinois passed a law called the Employment First Act. That law meant that people in Illinois tried lots of things to help people with disabilities get real jobs, like:
- giving more money to programs that help disabled people in Illinois find jobs they want to do
- Teaching service providers how to better help people get jobs.
State employment first laws work. Here is another example:
The state of Washington does Employment First. Since integrated employment is the first choice for people with disabilities there, many more people work in real jobs for real money than in other states — three times as many!4
You can help fight for good employment laws in your state by:
- Calling your disability services agencies to ask about what they are doing to help people get real jobs for real money
- Calling your state legislators and asking them to pass state Employment First laws