August 06, 2019

Gardens of Change: A Vision for the Future

DBHDD has been at the leading edge of innovation in several areas, and I am excited to share an update on important work we are advancing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  In March, we launched our inaugural Supported Employment Forum at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain.   The vision is clear; Georgia plans to triple the number of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) who are engaged in competitive integrated employment.  With guidance from an organization from Washington State known as Wise (formerly the Washington Initiative for Supported Employment), this engaging and empowering gathering culminated with the formation of a diverse state-level, interagency leadership team and six regional grassroots leadership teams called Gardens of Change.  These teams will serve a key role in our long-term investment in employment for all Georgians with I/DD. 

What does “Supported Employment” entail?

DBHDD provides two kinds of supported employment services: for individuals with mental illness and for those with I/DD.  I/DD supported employment is designed to help people find and maintain work based on their strengths, abilities, needs, resources, and interests.  For all people we serve, we partner with Director Ryan and the team at Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency to help people enter or return to the workforce.  DBHDD also funds ongoing support to help people achieve success in their jobs, once they are hired.

Why is this work so important?

Having a job and earning income empowers people by creating a sense of self-worth and affording individuals the ability to make choices.  This is critical to a person’s well-being, and it is especially important to people with disabilities who have traditionally had few options for creating a fulfilling life.  Employment promotes independence and builds confidence.  It also builds competence and provides opportunities to maintain skills and learn new ones, and it expands integration and relationships in the community. 

There is continued national attention on the implementation of the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which promotes competitive integrated employment for all people with disabilities.  In 2018, the Georgia General Assembly declared that competitive integrated employment is the first and preferred option for all working age citizens with disabilities.  This means full- or part-time work in an integrated community setting, compensated at or above the rate for similar work performed by people without disabilities.

In addition to the value employment provides to people with disabilities, it is good for business.  Individuals with disabilities in the labor force have a positive financial impact on our economy, generating income that is ultimately returned in the form of tax revenues and the purchase of goods and services.  Employers are continuing to recognize the value of hiring workers with disabilities who add to a competent and stable workforce.

Our goal is to increase the rate of people in Georgia with I/DD who are engaged in competitive integrated employment from the current level of 16.3% to 48.9% by 2025.  Supported employment is our primary vehicle to help people with significant disabilities obtain real jobs and the chance to build financial security, but we are also focusing on:  

  • Training and technical assistance
  • A dedicated supported employment workforce
  • A comprehensive data system
  • Clear messaging to the community
  • High school transitions from school to work

The foundation of our work is interagency collaboration, and the catalysts are dedicated leaders who value inclusion, relationships, and choice.  State and community leaders, service providers, support coordinators, employers, self-advocates, families, and individuals with I/DD are all working together to create opportunities for integrated employment in the community.  This is truly an exciting time in our state as we anticipate great work ahead, which will open the doors to employment for ALL!    

Judy Fitzgerald

Commissioner, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities