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Supported competitive employment: using coworkers to assist follow-along efforts.

Supported Competitive Employment: Using Coworkers to Assist Follow-Along Efforts

The authorization of supported employment services by the Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 (P.L. 99-319) identified three defining aspects of these services. First, supported employment is defined by employment of 20 hours or more per week. Second, supported employment is characterized by the placement of individuals in employment settings where no more than eight other individuals with dis-abilities are also present. Third, and most importantly, supported employment is characterized by the provision of continued follow-along services to consumers at their place of employment at least twice monthly (Federal Register, November 18, 1987).

The provision of these follow-along services is most essential in assuring the long-term employment of individuals for whom competitive employment has traditionally been denied or unsuccessful. Follow-along occurs after consumers have been placed and trained on their jobs by employment specialists and have become stabilized in their employment (Moon, Goodall, Barcus, & Brooke, 1986; Wehman & Kregel, 1985). During the follow-along process, the employment specialist may be called upon to deal with a variety of issues, ranging from designing and implementing behavior modification programs to performing more typical case management functions. No doubt, activities such as these typically require the analytical skills and clinical precision of a highly trained individual. Recently, however, much has been written regarding the potential use of non-disabled coworkers to provide additional support and assistance to supported employment consumers (Rusch, 1983; Rusch & Mithaug, 1980; Rusch & Schutz, 1981; Shafer, 1986; Wehman, 1981; Wilcox & Bellamy, 1982).

While the potential use of coworkers in supported employment has been suggested, a paucity of empirical literature is currently available that demonstrates the effective utilization of these individuals in supported employment. In the only systematic evaluation of a coworker-mediated intervention reported to date, Rusch and his colleagues (Rusch, Weithers, Menchetti, & Schutz, 1980) utilized three coworkers to reduce the frequency of topic repetitions by a worker with mental retardation. The coworkers were instructed to inform the subject each time he repeated a statement that was previously made. The results of that investigation provided preliminary evidence that coworkers could be used to support the behavioral change efforts of employment specialists in supported employment settings.

In this article, a series of case studies demonstrating various strategies using the assistance of non-disabled coworkers in supported employment are reported. The case studies reported in this article provide a qualitative exploration into the use of coworker assisted intervention efforts and as such, lack the systematic data collection or rigorous research design that typically accompanies reports of this nature. It is anticipated that these case studies will provide the practitioner of supported employment with suggested methods for using coworkers to support and maintain behavioral changes achieved with supported employment consumers. Case Study #1

Consumer and Setting

Tony is a 28-year-old man who was diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded. His latest school psychological evaluation (1976) estimated his IQ at 41 (WAIS). A recent audiological evaluation indicates that Tony has a severe hearing loss. Tony is quite independent in a variety of life domains. He lives in his own apartment and is proficient in using the public bus system. Tony receives a good deal of support from his mother, especially in the areas of financial management and health care. He is well equipped to function within the social fabric of his community, yet his knowledge of the more complex aspects of society are limited due to his inability to read, write, or use functional math.

Previously, Tony attended a vocational training school for food service work but had to leave the program because of disruptive behavior. He then held several jobs and was terminated from each for disruptive behavior. Tony was initially placed into supported competitive employment as a porter/dishwasher. He was initially very successful but subsequently resigned due to several incidents of verbal aggression towards his employer and coworkers. Approximately four months after resigning this position, Tony was placed in his current position as a pot scrubber/kitchen utility aide at a university cafeteria. His adjustment in this position was rapid and he received satisfactory supervisor evaluations for the first two months.

Presenting Problem

Tony's employment specialist received several reports from his employer indicating that he was experiencing some problems at work. Specifically, it had been reported by Tony's supervisor that he had been involved in several arguments with his coworkers and on the most recent occasion he had used violent and threatening language toward a female coworker. Tony's supervisor was quite concerned and desired assistance for the employment specialist.

General Procedures

Initially, the employment specialist discussed Tony's alleged work problems with the supervisor. Three other coworkers were also interviewed including one female coworker who had recently been in a serious argument with Tony. Although the supervisor reported that Tony always responded to his requests in an appropriate manner, the supervisor and coworkers indicated that Tony became upset when coworkers either corrected him on a work task or requested him to perform additional tasks. Tony agreed that he often became upset but defended his actions by suggesting that the coworkers "weren't his boss" coupled with statements like "nobody messes with me" and "I don't like to be hassled". In talking with Tony it became clear that he had a strong respect for the supervisor but did not perceive an obligation to follow the request of coworkers.

During these discussions with the supervisor and Tony, the employment specialist suggested that one or more of the coworkers become involved in assisting Tony to control his outbursts. Robert, a coworker of Tony, was identified by Tony's supervisor and his employment specialist. Robert worked the same hours as Tony and exhibited an interest in him as evidenced by frequent social interactions and the fact that they often ate lunch together. Robert agreed to assist Tony in any way possible.

Robert met with Tony's employment specialist daily for two weeks. During these meetings, which occurred near the end of the shift, Robert recounted any problems Tony may have had that day. The employment specialist also discussed various strategies that Robert could use to change Tony's actions toward the other coworkers. These strategies consisted of encouraging Robert to use positive practices in interacting with Tony. Although Robert already had a positive relationship with Tony, our strategy was to insure that Robert systematically gave Tony positive feedback regarding work-related behaviors. For example, Robert agreed to check Tony at his work station several times during a shift. If Tony was working or if his area was clean, Robert was to provide praise that was specific to those conditions. Robert was also instructed to verbally praise Tony whenever a positive interaction occurred between him and the other coworkers. Additionally, Robert served as a mediator, advocating Tony's position to the other coworkers and encouraging them to use positive practices as well.


During the first two weeks of our intervention, Tony demonstrated improvement. Interviews and questionnaires directed to Tony's supervisor, Robert, and other coworkers were returned with favorable comments. Tony apparently was performing his job and generally "getting along" with his coworkers. Tony's supervisor was pleased with the progress and weekly supervisor reports were positive. During the third week of intervention, Tony exhibited behavior that was a serious threat to his job. On several occasions, he reprimanded customers for leaving their trays on the tables in the dining room. Tony's supervisor witnessed one such incident and immediately counseled Tony that he could not, under any circumstances, argue with a customer. Tony was less than enthusiastic about modifying his behavior. As Tony explained it, he could not let "those people" leave messes. Our intervention at this point was to call on all resources including Tony's employment specialist, mother, supervisor, and Robert to talk with Tony and convince him that he must be courteous to customers. The efforts proved fruitful as Tony began verbalizing agreement with our advice and, most importantly, demonstrated no more problems with customers.

We continued to work with Robert for another two weeks and collected verbal reports. Tony appeared to be stable at the job and our intervention was discontinued. Follow-along interviews with Tony have revealed that he enjoys his job and he offers no complaints concerning his coworkers. We feel that the overall intervention was successful. It has documented, if nothing else, that a coworker will agree to provide assistance on a competitive job-site. Additionally, it seems that in this case the coworker's intervention had positive effects. Case Study #2

Consumer and Setting

Brian is a 19-year-old young man who was diagnosed as moderately mentally retarded (Full Scale WAIS IQ=47). Brian exhibits no sensory impairments and has never been institutionalized. He currently lives at home with his parents and attends an integrated special education program. Brian displays a number of functional capacities that are inconsistent with his intellectual assessment. For example, he is able to complete simple arithmetic, reads at an elementary level, and can tell time. In many respects, Brian does not appear to be mentally retarded and was described by his case manager as "street wise".

When Brian was 17 he was referred to a transitional employment program for job placement. As a result of this program, Brian was placed part-time as a stock clerk at a local butcher shop. He held this position for a period of 10 months before he was fired by the store supervisor. Brian's employment specialist cited a number of problems in his termination report: "Brian has had many problems with following directions and with social skills. He continuously played with coworkers after being told to work by the manager. He had been threatened with firing (by his employer) on four previous occasions. His overall work performance was good, but his social behavior, which was often inappropriate, was his problem area."

Due to the cooperation of the corporation that owned the butcher shop, Brian was offered the opportunity to transfer to another butcher shop in town that was owned by the corporation. Brian began work at the new store two days after his termination. His adjustment to his new position was initially quite good. The new store supervisor indicated that Brian's job performance was as good as, if not superior to, that of other workers.

Presenting Problem

Brian began displaying difficulties approximately two months after he had been placed into his new position. Initial correspondence between Brian's employer and employment specialist identified the following problems: 1) use of profanity while on the job; 2) refusing to perform jobs as instructed by his manager; 3) coming to work out of uniform; 4) coming to work late; and 5) "playing around" while he was supposed to be working. While these problems were of great concern to Brian's employer, she also affirmed Brian's competence in performing his major job duties and indicated that she valued Brian as an employee as long as the identified problem areas could be addressed.

General Procedures

A number of discussions were held initially between Brian, his mother, and the employment specialist. The purpose of these discussions was to bring Brian's problems to the attention of his mother and to enlist her support in making sure that Brian arrived at work on time and in the proper uniform.

Additionally, meetings between Brian, his employer and the employment specialist were held to discuss and implement programs at work to improve his behavior. Since Brian typically worked alone with the employer, the opportunity to use coworkers to modify his behavior was not feasible. However, Brian's employer expressed great interest in Brian and offered to assist in any way possible. Brian's employment specialist and employer identified three priority problem areas that they wanted to concentrate upon: arrival at work on time, dress in the proper uniform, and not talking back to the employer or using profanity. A check list was developed for the employer to use each day. This checklist identified the three problem areas: arriving at work on time, dressing in proper uniform, and talking back.

Each day when Brian arrived at work, the employer would indicate on the checklist whether or not he had arrived at work on time and whether or not he was dressed in the proper uniform. If Brian had arrived on time and was dressed in the proper uniform, the employer would place a "+" on the checklist in the columns for these behaviors and provide Brian with verbal praise. If Brian did not arrive at work on time or failed to dress appropriately, his employer would place a "-" on the checklist in the appropriate column(s) and stress to Brian the importance of performing these behaviors. On those occasions when Brian did not dress appropriately, he was told to go home and dress appropriately before coming to work. At the end of each day, Brian's employer would indicate on the checklist if Brian had talked back to or swore at her. Once again, if Brian did not engage in this behavior, the employer would place a "+" in the appropriate column and provide him with verbal praise.

Periodically, the employment specialist would check in with Brian and his employer. At these times, the checklist would be reviewed and Brian, the employer, and employment specialist would discuss Brian's performance. The employment specialist also maintained contact with Brian's mother by informing her of Brian's performance and reinforcing the mother for her continuing to emphasize to Brian the importance of his job.


The impact of this intervention was most pronounced by the new and effective channels of communications that were established between Brian, his employer, employment specialist, and mother. As a result of the employer completing the checklist on a daily basis, regular and consistent feedback was provided to Brian, leading to improvements in all three of the previously identified problem areas. Although baseline data were not collected, discussions with the employer indicated greater satisfaction with Brian's performance in each of the three identified areas following the implementation of the checklist. In reviewing the effectiveness of the program, the employment specialist indicated satisfaction with the structure with which behavior-specific information could be obtained from the employer, allowing her to more accurately judge Brian's continued service needs.

This case study demonstrates one strategy by which employers (and potential coworkers) could be utilized to collect behavior specific data regarding the performance of supported employment consumers (Shafer, 1986). This data can facilitate employment specialists' assessment of consumers' progress and provide employers with a structured method for providing supervision and feedback to consumers. Case Study #3

Jesse is 32 years old, diagnosed as moderately mentally retarded (WAIS Full Scale IQ=45) with Down's Syndrome. Jesse is employed as a kitchen utility aide in a student cafeteria of a medical college. As such, Jesse is employed for 10 months each year, but does not work the summer months as the cafeteria is closed. Jesse has been employed in his current position for approximately seven years. Jesse's major responsibilities consist of vacuuming the dining area carpet between meals, using an industrial dish machine to wash dishes, and washing a variety of other utensils and materials used by the kitchen personnel.

Jesse's major assets, as identified by his employment specialist, include good social skills, a positive personality, and an "excellent" attitude toward work. Major obstacles or deficits identified by his employment specialist include slow work patterns and low productivity, poor personal hygiene skills, and an over reliance upon his employer for supervision. He was previously employed for three months as a porter for a private dinner club. Jesse was fired from this position because he was unable to independently monitor his own work. The employer in that position indicated that Jesse needed to be more independent of supervision.

Presenting Problems

Jesse's employer reported that he was not vacuuming the floor thoroughly enough, was not vacuuming the entire length of rows between tables, was failing to vacuum under the tables, and was not picking up debris that the vacuum missed.

General Procedures

The employment specialist met with the employer to further discuss the complaint and to evaluate the potential for involving a coworker to assist in improving Jesse's vacuuming. Carole, a medical student intern who worked part-time at the cafeteria was identified. Carole was employed as a cashier and as such, was the only person present in the dining area during the time that Jesse was vacuuming.

Given Jesse's lengthy history of employment at his present position and the general level of support from the management that he enjoyed, it was determined that a series of baseline observations could be conducted without jeopardizing his employment. During these observations, an employment specialist observed Jesse while he was vacuuming and noted any interactions or assistance from Carole. No assistance or instruction, however, was provided to Jesse.

After conducting these baseline observations, the employment specialist began providing skill training to Jesse on a daily basis. The focus of this training was to improve Jesse's general vacuuming skills by prompting him to vacuum the entire length of each row between tables, to vacuum underneath each table, and to pick up and discard any debris that the vacuum did not pick up. During this training, the employment specialist shadowed Jesse while he vacuumed and provided him with prompts and intermittent reinforcement throughout his performance of the task. Carole was urged to observe this training as time permitted.

The employment specialist also discussed with Carole specific forms of feedback that she could provide Jesse to improve his performance. A rating scale was developed for Carole to use in evaluating Jesse's vacuuming. The rating scale divided the dining area into five areas and asked Carole to rate Jesse's vacuuming on a 5 point scale ranging from Very Bad (1) to Very Good (5). After Jesse had completed vacuuming, Carole was to accompany Jesse throughout the dining area, evaluating each section and discussing with Jesse specific areas in need of continued improvement. Initially, the employment specialist would accompany Carole and Jesse during this evaluation, assisting Carole to provide positive and constructive feedback by providing her with verbal prompts as well as modeling appropriate methods for providing Jesse with feedback.

As Jesse began to improve his vacuuming and Carole became more comfortable in providing Jesse with feedback, the employment specialist decreased the frequency and intensity with which she provided Jesse with training. This reduction in training continued until Jesse was once again independently vacuuming the dining area and the only form of assistance that he was receiving was the daily feedback that Carole was providing to him.


As indicated by Figure 1, Carole's assessment of Jesse's vacuuming was marginal before training was provided, confirming the complaints previously received from the employer. Discussions with the employer during the baseline observations confirmed and supported Carole's evaluations. However, as skill training was provided, Jesse displayed a marked improvement in his vacuuming. This improvement was maintained as the employment specialist decreased her training to Jesse and as Carole assumed primary responsibility for providing Jesse with feedback.

Obviously, it is not possible to conclude from these results that Carole's feedback to Jesse was responsible for maintaining his improvement in vacuuming. Conceivably, Jesse's improvements may have maintained naturally following the training by the employment specialist. However, discussions with Jesse, Carole, and the employer indicated that all parties concerned perceived the evaluation and feedback from Carole to be beneficial and that the employer expressed greater satisfaction with Jesse's performance as a result of this feedback. As an indication of the social validity of this intervention (Kazdin, 1977), it is of interest to note that the employer contacted the employment specialist when the student cafeteria re-opened following summer vacation. Carole was no longer employed by the cafeteria and the employer requested that the employment specialist train another coworker to assist Jesse. Case Study #4

Consumer and Setting

Michael is a 20 year old man who was diagnosed primarily as severely mentally retarded and autistic. The last psychological test (WAIS-R) given to Michael was administered in June 1981. At that time, his IQ was estimated to be 24. Michael has difficulty communicating with people due to his inability to speak and his limited knowledge of sign language.

Michael works at a shopping mall from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., Monday through Friday. When he comes to work he is greeted by his two other coworkers, Tommy and Robert. The mall doesn't open until 9:00 a.m. Tommy and Robert, the "mall walkers", the only people Michael has contact with. Tommy's job duties include patrolling and keeping the inside of the mall clean. Robert's duties include keeping the inside of the mall clean and assisting the merchants. Michael has minor contact with his coworkers during the day. His supervisor arrives to work at 8:00 a.m. Therefore, Michael is working unsupervised for approximately an hour.

Michael is responsible for moving throughout the mall. The mall is approximately 311,000 square feet of leasable area. Michael's job duties include cleaning the public restrooms and washing the windows of the entrance doors. He is responsible for cleaning the inside windows of the doors. The outside windows are done by either Tommy or Robert. The size of the door determines the number of window panes. The window panes vary in size and number, ranging from six to 36 window panes.

Presenting Problem

Michael was having difficulty starting work. His mother would drive him to work promptly at 7:00 a.m. Once he arrived he would hang his coat on the rack, and proceed to walk around the mall. The schedule had been set for Michael to go directly to the supply closet after hanging his coat up and to stock his working cart with cleaning materials. As a result of walking around the mall Michael would start late and not complete all of his tasks by the end of the day. The employment specialist would prompt Michael to go to work when he started walking. After five days of telling him to go to work, the employment specialist sought assistance from Michael's coworkers, Tommy and Robert.

General Procedures

The employment specialist had noticed Tommy and Robert were present in the employee rooms when Michael arrived to work. At that point, she set up a meeting with Michael's employer, to discuss asking Michael's coworkers to prompt him to work. The employment specialist explained that Michael needed a reminder in the morning to begin work and that a cue from Tommy or Robert would be sufficient. The employer agreed to allow the employment specialist to initiate the program.

The employment specialist spoke with Robert and Tommy to get their consent and to explain that Michael needed a reminder when he came to work to stock his working cart. They agreed to remind Michael.

During the first few days, the employment specialist waited inside the supply closet for two minutes after Michael arrived for him to come and stock his cart. If he came to the supply closet within that time, she would reinforce him. When Michael did not arrive within the alloted time, she provided Michael a prompt and then reminded the coworkers to do likewise.


The prompts that Michael was given by Robert and Tommy were sufficient as changes in Michael's starting time were evidenced immediately. Michael was beginning work within the time alloted and finished on time for four consecutive weeks. At the end of the four weeks, Tommy and Robert's work schedules changed. Therefore, they were not in the employee room at 7:00 a.m. when Michael came to work. Once the prompt was removed, Michael's starting time decreased and his finishing time lengthened. The consistency of the coworkers being in the employee room affected whether or not Michael began work on time.

This project was beneficial to Michael in two ways. The coworker interaction that took place allowed for relationships to be built between Michael, Robert, and Tommy. The employment specialist noted more interactions and involvement throughout the day. Tommy and Robert would include Michael when they took breaks and commented daily on the good work he was doing.

The employer also commented on the good work Michael was doing. Michael received a raise after being employed for 30 days and received a day off. Michael has been employed at the shopping mall for over one year. He had two supportive coworkers who wanted to get involved. Today, Robert and Tommy are still employed at the mall with Michael, and are still getting involved. Discussion

In this article, four case studies were presented that demonstrate various strategies by which coworkers with little to no training were actively involved in the modification and maintenance of social and vocational behaviors by consumers of supported employment. These case studies provide additional support to the small but growing literature regarding the involvement of coworkers in the supported employment process (Rusch & Menchetti, 1981; Rusch, Weithers, Menchetti, & Schutz, 1980; Shafer, 1986; Stanford & Wehman, 1980). In these case studies, the consumers displayed difficulties that were potentially job threatening and in fact had resulted in job terminations in the past. As such, the consumers participating in these case studies demonstrated the need for periodic, ongoing follow-along services which are essential elements of supported employment (Wehman & Kregel, 1985).

In each of the case studies, coworkers were taught a variety of skills to assist supported employment consumers maintain their employment. In spite of the differences in the specific skills that were taught to the different coworkers, all of the coworkers were taught to provide the consumers with specific forms of performance-based feedback. For example, Tony's coworker was enlisted to review Tony's interactions with other coworkers and customers each day. Similarly, Jesse's coworker was taught to provide him with feedback after he had vacuumed, praising him for areas that were clean and pointing out areas in need of additional vacuuming. The delivery of feedback and other consequences by individuals who are naturally found within a given environment has long been recognized as a more efficient strategy for promoting skill generalization and maintenance than traditional teacher or trainer provided feedback (Stokes & Baer 1977). Previous demonstrations using coworkers in supported employment have also trained coworkers to provide feedback (Rusch et al., 1980) or consequences such as work suspension (Rusch & Menchetti, 1981) to modify the behavior of workers with mental retardation.

In addition to learning to provide feedback, two of the coworkers were also taught to maintain a daily record of the consumers' performance. In Case Study 2, for example, the coworker used a checklist to indicate the consumer's performance of three target skills: arriving on time, dressing in uniform, and speaking appropriately. Likewise, in Case Study 3, the coworker maintained a daily record of the consumer's vacuuming performance by using a five-point rating scale. The information recorded by the coworkers was reviewed weekly by the consumers' employment specialists who were then able to make informed decisions about the need for and nature of additional services that the consumers required.

Asking coworkers to keep data on consumers' performance represents a new dimension for the involvement of coworkers (Shafer, 1986) and appears to provide a number of benefits in the delivery of supported employment services. First, performance data that is collected by coworkers or employers is likely to provide a more reliable and realistic perspective of consumers' actual performance than is possible when data is collected by employment specialists. Two studies have reported the reactive effects that the presence of an employment specialist has upon the performance of consumers (Fischer, Wehman, & Young, 1980; Rusch, Menchetti, Crouch, Riva, Morgan, & Agran 1984). These studies both documented that consumers are likely to perform better when they know they are being observed than when they do not know they are being observed. As such, using coworkers to collect performance data on supported employment consumers may minimize the potential for reactive effects since the consumers are less likely to know that they are being observed and evaluated.

A second advantage of enlisting coworkers to collect performance data is the greater potential that this data will reflect the recognized but often subtle performance standards in place within the company. Typically, attempts by employment specialists to identify these standards will include discussions with employers and coworkers as well as observations of coworkers performing the same task (Moon, Goodall, Barcus, & Brooke, 1986). Asking coworkers to evaluate the performance of supported employment consumers provides an additional means of assuring the social validity of the data upon which employment specialists must determine the need for additional follow-along services (White, 1986).

A final advantage of using coworkers to collect performance feedback is that the collection of this information provides the coworker with a structure for providing the consumer with feedback and may serve as a reminder or prompt to the coworker to provide the feedback. Informal discussions with the coworkers who collected data on consumers' performance revealed that this collection was helpful in reminding them to provide the consumer with feedback and for providing a focus for the feedback. For example, in Case Study 2, the coworker completed a checklist regarding three target skills for the consumer. The checklist was then used as a focus point for providing feedback as the coworker would point out to the consumer the number of "+" and "-" earned each day.

The case studies reported in this article did not follow standard research methodology and design considerations. As such, the impact of the coworkers' participation in each of these case studies can not be directly and validly demonstrated. Due to the demands of the employment settings, the caseloads of the employment specialists, and the concerns for minimizing the amount of intrusion on the employment settings, standard data collections systems were not employed. Similarly, a priori research designs, such as reversals or multiple baselines, were not employed due to the idiosyncratic nature of the supported employees service needs and their work situations. While these case studies may lack sufficient rigor for empirical demonstration, they do provide the practitioner and researcher alike, with information and direction for future research and implementation efforts.

A number of considerations and issues regarding coworker involvement warrant further discussion to highlight essential aspects that readers may wish to consider before involving coworkers. These issues may also provide direction for future research efforts.

Determining If Coworker Assistance Is Appropriate

Not all situations that arise in follow-along will be best served by involving coworkers. Hence, the employment specialist must carefully evaluate the consumer, the presenting problem, and the general work environment to determine if the involvement of a coworker will be the most efficient strategy to pursue.

An essential consideration is the nature of the problem confronting the employment specialist. A determination should be made if the presenting problem is at a crisis stage at which the consumer may be fired if improvement is not immediately forthcoming. If so, then alternative strategies should be considered that provide for more intensive and immediate results. However, if the presenting problem does not present an immediate threat to the consumer's employment, then a coworker-assisted strategy may be considered. Additionally, skill problems reflective of poor generalization or maintenance may be more appropriate situations for involving coworkers than skill acquisition problems (Shafer, 1986).

Another consideration is the general proximity of the coworker to the supported employment consumer and the reliability with which coworkers will be available to assist the consumer. As reported in Case Study #4, the coworkers' schedule changed and did not allow them to be in the employee room to prompt Michael when he arrived at work. This change required the employment specialist to employ a new strategy for getting Michael to start work on time.

Gaining Employer Approval

Any attempt to involve coworkers in supported employment efforts should always be first discussed with and approved by the coworkers' employer or supervisor. In some instances, employers may not want coworkers to participate because they are concerned that regular work assignments may not be completed. In other situations, employers may be concerned about allowing coworkers to assume "supervisory" responsibilities. Regardless of the concerns, the cooperation and support of the employer is essential in any effort to involve coworkers. In each of the case studies reported in this article, extensive discussions with the employers were conducted before any of the coworkers were approached about participating.

Identifying Appropriate Coworkers

Once employer approval has been obtained, the employment specialist must go about identifying the coworker or coworker(s) to involve. Generally, the employer will be a good source from which to begin. Discussions with employers should help to identify coworkers with the following characteristics. First, the coworker should be a veteran employee in good standing with the employer. Second, the coworker should have relatively good relations with the other coworkers. Third, the coworker should be understanding, particularly of disabling conditions. In this regard, coworkers who are themselves disabled or have a relative or friend with a disability are often the best candidates.

Assuring the Dignity of the Consumer

An additional consideration in involving coworkers in supported employment efforts is assuring that the dignity and integration of the consumer within the established social network of the work environment is not jeopardized by the coworkers' active involvement. In these case studies, the consumers had been employed for extended periods and as such, had established social networks and patterns with the coworkers and employers. As such, our efforts to involve coworkers had to minimize any disruptive effect that this involvement may have had upon these established networks and patterns. Three basic principles and strategies were employed. First, efforts were made to assure informed consent on the part of the consumers before coworkers became involved. A second strategy that was employed was to involve no more than one coworker at any given job and to minimize discussion with the participating coworker when other coworkers or customers were nearby. A final strategy was minimizing any discussion with the coworkers regarding the consumer's disability. Rather, these discussions focused upon the consumers' role within the company and their need to maintain adequate performance. As such, interactions with coworkers should focus upon the consumers as fellow employees rather than special or different employees.

Training Coworkers

A final issue raised by the involvement of coworkers studies is the method by which coworkers are involved and prepared to assist supported employment consumers. Based upon the procedures utilized in previous programs that have used peers to modify behavior, the training that was provided to the coworkers in these case studies consisted of three elements that included informal discussions with the coworkers and consumers, modelling appropriate and positive forms of feedback for the coworkers, and providing the coworkers with constructive feedback regarding their interactions and feedback with the consumers. Technical terms such as reinforcement or extinction were not used to avoid intimidating the coworkers. In addition, the importance of the coworkers' participation in the program, and the positive impact which this participation would have upon the consumers was repeatedly emphasized as a means of motivating the coworkers for their participation.

In summary, four case studies are presented which report on various strategies for involving coworkers in supported employment efforts. These case studies demonstrate the effective use of coworkers to supplement the efforts of employment specialists to modify a number of follow-along issues presented by supported employment consumers. In each of these case studies, coworkers were taught to provide consumers with specific feedback regarding their performance of various social-vocational survival skills (Rusch, 1979) that had previously resulted in the consumers' termination from employment. As such, these case studies are intended to provide readers with preliminary evidence that coworkers can be effectively involved in the supported employment process and to suggest methods by which this involvement may be facilitated.
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Author:Jesiolowski, Carole
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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