What is Supported Employment & How to Incorporate it Within Your Organization

Outcome: By the end of this lesson, you will have a deeper understanding of what Supported Employment is and 9 simple strategies for how to effectively integrate supported employment at your organization.

Lesson Length : 30 minutes


  1. Read background information on Supported Employment. 
  2. Watch the PlayGarden’s Supported Employment Video. 
  3. Review task lists for different employees at the PlayGarden.  
  4. Read 10 steps for incorporating Supported Employment at your organization 
  5. Answer the Pause & Reflect Questions 

Activity Part I

Read background information on Supported Employment.


The PlayGarden offers employment opportunities for young adults with disabilities. Our journey in becoming a more inclusive and diverse workplace has come about in a very natural way. As the PlayGarden has grown, so have the children who attend our programs. We began offering summer camp in 2005 and the kids from our inaugural camp year are now young adults. As our camp participants grow and return to our camp program each year, we create opportunities for them to take on new roles, as junior counselors and then full camp counselors. In true PlayGarden fashion, we extend these growth and leadership opportunities to all of our former camp participants; those with disabilities and those without. Young adults with disabilities also work in our Open Play, Summer Camp, and Preschool programs.


2.What is Supported Employment

It is a model of employment that provides people with severe disabilities the appropriate, ongoing support that is necessary for success in a competitive work environment. Most individuals in a supported employment program receive services from a community-based service provider. At the PlayGarden we partner with the Northwest Center and Provail. 

3.What do community providers help with?

Community-based service providers offer vocational assessment, locate or develop jobs, and provide job skills training. Most providers have job coaches who work at the job site and help the client learn job tasks, identify job modifications including assistive technology, and work with the employer to solve behavioral or social problems.


Both companies support young adults with disabilities as they look for employment opportunities and apply and interview for jobs.  Once hired by an organization, the new employees are matched with a trained job coach. The job coaches help our employees organize their tasks, manage their time, and learn key job skills.

4.What are the benefits of Supported Employment

  • Employment contributes to feelings of self-determination, self-worth, and community inclusion.
  • Young adults have an opportunity to transition to the workplace in an inclusive, supportive environment.
  • They are able to do meaningful work, for a fair wage, while they negotiate the transition from high school to adulthood.
  • Equally important is the diversity these young people bring to your staff. Representation is important. The impact of seeing yourself represented, whether that’s in media or in the classroom, is powerful. Recent studies have shown just how powerful representation is in student achievement; children of color who have even one same-race teacher in elementary school are more likely to finish high school and more likely to attend a four-year college. We can infer that representation would be similarly important for children and youth with disabilities, who may struggle to see themselves reflected in the world around them. Hiring young adults with disabilities will give our preschoolers, summer camp participants, and open play visitors with disabilities the opportunity to see someone like them, doing meaningful work in a job where they are respected and valued.

Unfortunately, the employment statistics for adults with disabilities are staggering. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, the employment-population ratio—the proportion of the population that is employed— was 19.1 percent among those with a disability, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.9 percent. 

Pause & Reflect 

  1. How will young adults with disabilities be part of the community if they are excluded or denied meaningful employment opportunities?
  2. How will companies, organizations, and municipalities be able to meet the needs of an ever-changing planet and global economy without diversity of perspectives at the table?

Activity Part II

Watch the PlayGarden's Supported Employment Video

Activity Part III

Review task lists for different employees at the PlayGarden

Asher - PreSchool Assistant

Asher’s Tasks
  • Folds and puts away the hand towels
  • Sets up our morning circle time tarps, blankets and carries out the book basket
  • Sets out the kids green chairs
  • Puts tablecloths on picnic tables 
  • Sets out the kids art journals 
  • Helps with greeting preschoolers and their families.
  • Sets up the bubbles
  • Sweeps paths in the garden


Annie - PreSchool Teachers Assistant

Preschools Teacher’s Assistants Tasks
  • Support children during social engagement with other children, indoor and outdoor activities, cooking activities, and group activities.
  • Clean and organize indoor and outdoor facilities after class time. Including dishes, laundry, garbage, and materials used during class. 
  • Communicate with teachers and parents about behavioral challenges, goals, and achievements of children.
  • Participate in curriculum and lesson planning with the teaching team. 


Nicole - PreSchool Assistant

Nicole’s Preschool Tasks
  • Greets preschoolers and their families 
  • Monthly and weekly art project preparation such as making playdough, cutting out shapes for projects, 
  • Cook snack and lunch for the kids including making recipes like banana bread, smoothies, quesadillas, french toast & peeling, and chopping fruit. 
  • Set up the table for snack and help serve snack to the preschoolers 
  • Clean off art supplies from tables 
  • Load dishes from snack into dishwasher and clean up the kitchen counters
  • Participate in morning circle time with the preschoolers. 
  • Share songs with the preschoolers.


Michaela - PreSchool Assistant

Michaela’s Preschool Tasks
  • Puts kids art into their art journals and helps the teachers send home the art that the kids made.
  • Folds and puts away  towels
  • Washes dishes, loads, and unloads the dishwasher.
  • Cleans and organizes art supplies
  • Prepares snack and lunch recipes for preschoolers such as making homemade granola.
  • Assists with administrative tasks like shredding paper and stamping and addressing envelopes.


Activity Part IV

Make a plan to onboard at least two new staff with disabilities to your team. Follow the Step-by-step guide and answer the following questions.

Determine the following before you begin.

  • Which programs could use additional support?
  • How many hours a week can you offer supported employment opportunities? 
  • Who will be the manager for new employees? 
  • How will you be sure to meaningfully include your new employees with disabilities with the rest of your staff?

9 Steps to Start Supported Employment at Your Organization


Review your organization’s budget to be sure you have funds to pay an additional employee.  If you currently don’t have the capacity to add another staff member, consider how you can adjust your fundraising goals or apply for grants that would allow you to bring on more employees.  The job coaches that will come with the new employee are paid by the community-based service provider such as Provail. 


Contact a community-based service provider such as Provail or Northwest Center to let them know you are interested in hiring adults with disabilities to work in your program.


In that conversation, share a bit about your organization and the types of tasks you have a need for. Keep an open mind. There are likely tasks you have never even thought of that someone could bring to your organization that would improve things for everyone. 

Learn about potential new employees

The community-service provider will get back to you with ideas of which clients of theirs would be interested in doing the types of work that you have. 

Meet with a Job Coach

Job coaches may come and visit your organization to see it in person or have that client come and do a site visit.


Work together with the community-based service provider to coordinate the hiring, training, and onboarding of new staff. 

Internal structuring

Work with your existing staff to figure out who will be the contact person and manager for new employees. This person will work closely with the job coach, the employee to come up with meaningful task lists that fit the needs of the organization as well as the interests and skills of the individual. 

Employment Begins

Work with your new employee and their job coach to figure out if there are any adjustments to tasks that need to be made so they are accessible for the employee. 

Keep Communicating

Plan to check in with your employees and their job coaches regularly to give and receive feedback. 

Pause & Reflect 

  1. “You can’t be what you can’t see.” What does that statement mean to you? 
  2. Do you have any co-workers with disabilities?
  3. How can you create opportunities for employment for people with disabilities in your community or your organization?