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Shaping Service Systems to Promote Customized Employment in Illinois

June 30, 2014

The LEAD Center Customized Employment Initiative works across systems in Illinois and Kansas to support systems change. Subject matter experts work with policy makers on opportunities to blend and braid resources, identify and/or draft regulatory changes that align resources to meet long-term support needs, and integrate promising practice in the provision of services and supports to improve the employment outcomes of the state’s citizens with disabilities.  This quarter, we will highlight LEAD’s work in Illinois and the exciting progress being made in their cross-system commitment to employment for people with disabilities. The state of Illinois has participated in ODEP’s Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program’s Community of Practice since July 2012.

LEAD Center consultant, Lisa Mills, is working with Illinois and assisting the governor’s Employment and Economic Opportunity for Persons with Disabilities Task Force and key state agencies with identification of policy changes, funding strategies and demonstration opportunities that can advance the use of Customized Employment as an evidence-based strategy for improving employment outcomes. Under Governor Pat Quinn’s strong leadership, Illinois state government has prioritized the goal of increasing the number of Illinoisans with disabilities who are working in integrated, competitive employment. This cross-disability agenda has brought together Illinois’ state agencies in collaborative and complementary efforts focused on opening doors and removing barriers to gainful employment for citizens living with disabilities in Illinois. 

An executive order, focused on increasing integrated employment of Illinoisans with disabilities, signed by Governor Quinn on June 3, 2014, mentions customized employment as an innovative initiative that has a role in increasing gainful employment opportunities. The executive order also calls for the creation of a “statewide multi-agency integrated program” advanced through a commitment to “improved state agency coordination efforts” and the creation of a “preliminary five-year plan” and “final plan” to improve integrated, competitive employment outcomes for Illinoisans with disabilities. The plans are required to include “strategies for improving services and supports necessary to make disability employment part of the state workforce development strategy.” 

Their holistic cross-systems approach to supporting the effective use of Customized Employment strategies has thus far included:

1.    Worknet Centers implementing small Group Discovery pilots that include jobseekers with disabilities and other significant barriers to competitive employment or re-employment;

2.    The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity integrating Discovery-focused approaches into its Worknet on-line user experience;

3.    The Illinois Division of Rehabilitation Services building in a focus on utilization of Discovery and Customized Employment strategies for specific target populations as part of its CMS-funded Balancing Incentives Program pilot efforts to increase employment service provider capacity to facilitate competitive employment for individuals with disabilities; 

4.    The Illinois Division of Developmental Disabilities building in a focus on the effective use and funding of customized employment strategies into its Balancing Incentives Program project, which includes specific initiatives to a) strengthen the Medicaid-financed service array and guiding definitions through a collaborative process with stakeholders and b) develop recommendations to improve reimbursement models for employment and related services in order to incentivize integrated employment as the first option for service; and

5.    The state Medicaid agency building support for customized employment strategies into its plan to implement managed long-term care across all eligible disability populations.

The LEAD Center will continue to provide technical assistance during this very exciting and groundbreaking time as the state moves forward in implementing the executive order.

To learn more about customized employment, join us for next month’s LEAD Center webinar, Customized Employment: Moving Beyond the Basics on July 30, 2014 3:00 p.m. EDT, click on Employment on the LEAD Center website at, and or visit ODEP’s resources on customized employment.