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​​Employment is a key to full citizenship for Oregonians with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Employment establishes community connections that allow people to become contributing and valued members of their communities. As with all other citizens, for individuals with I/DD, employment has many positive impacts. These impacts include increasing self-worth, building relationships, and access to community resources. Employment improves economic well-being as well as physical and mental health.

Employment First is both a philosophy and an Oregon state ​policy. As a philosophy, Employment First is based on the presumption that working age adults and youth with I/DD can work in jobs fully integrated in the community. Integrated employment includes typical workplace settings where there are regular opportunities for meaningful interaction with co-workers without disabilities and/or customers or the general public. This can also include self-employment. The employment of individuals with I/DD adds to the diversity of the workforce and general enrichment of communities.

The Employment First policy states that work in integrated jobs is the first and priority option in planning employment services for working-age adults and youth. Services should be planned using person-centered practices that identify an individual’s talents, skills, and interests. This information can then help inform employment options and career opportunities.

Oregon has partnered with a variety of stakeholders to develop a plan for successful implementation of the Employment First initiative and the Governor’s Executive Order 1​5-01​. These partners include:


Oregon was one of the first states to formally adopt an Employment First Policy. Adoption of the Employment First policy in 2008 was one result of Oregon advocates’ efforts to bring more employment opportunities for Oregon’s citizens experiencing intellectual and developmental disabilities. Since that time, approximately half the states have adopted Employment First policies or legislation and another 14 have actions related to an Employment First initiative.

From 2010 to 2012, ODHS focused on outreach to promote the Employment First p​​olicy. This included a statewide Employment First summit in September 2010, where stakeholders created this statement:

  1. Everyone can work and there is a job for everyone. Our job is to be creative and tenacious in providing support.
  2. Not working should be the exception. All individuals, schools, families and businesses must raise their expectations.
  3. People will be hired because of their ability not because they have a disability.
  4. Communities embrace people who contribute.
  5. Everyone has something to contribute and needs to contribute.
  6. People are healthier, safer and happiest with meaningful work.
  7. True employment is not a social service.
  8. Employment is a win/win for everybody.

In April 2013, Governor Kitzhaber issued an Executive Order as the next step in Oregon’s ongoing commitment to integrated employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also issued this letter to O​​DHS staff affirming Oregon’s commitment to offering integrated employment services for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

In May 2013, the Office of Developmental Disabilities​ Services, Vocational Rehabilitation, the Department of Education, and the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities, signed a Memo​randum of Understanding on Transition of Students with Disabilities to the Workforce. This agreement was made to help support and increase the number of students with disabilities transitioning from secondary schools to integrated, community-based employment or post-secondary education.

Employment First Integrated Work Plan

The Integrated Employment Plan is mandated by the Governor’s Executive Order 13-04. While the Integrated Employment Plan is required in the Order, it is also the result of partner/stakeholder discussions and feedback leading to the strategic thinking, development, and implementation of the Employment First policy. These discussions have involved a wide range of self-advocates, families, provider agencies, advocacy organizations, colleagues, consultants, and state leaders – both executive and legislative. The result has been a rich and comprehensive dialog resulting in a broad array of information, perspectives and ideas. This Integrated Employment Plan summarizes goals, strategies, and key activities necessary to provide high-quality, effective and cost-conscious services to Oregonians with I/DD.