Start with one person at a time (or in small groups). This may include meetings at people’s homes or in community settings. It can also involve gathering feedback and perspectives through surveys and focus groups.
Build trust. Parents and guardians are often concerned about what the closure of a segregated work setting or sheltered workshop will mean for their family member. To move through this complex process, you’ll need to create trust. This means offering opportunities for families to share their fears, setting up plans to reassure them, keeping them informed, and focusing on transparency, every step of the way.
Combine formal and informal strategies. You’ll need to keep individuals and families involved and inspired, even when the going gets tough. Formal strategies involve outreach through print or online newsletters, and via social media and email. Equally important are informal gatherings, such as barbeques, picnics, and regular “office hours” at a local coffee shop. An advantage of these informal efforts is the family- to-family connections they build.
Know your audience. Think about your families and your agency demographics before launching into engagement activities. For example, are some families more receptive about the transition to community employment? Start with them. Are the families you serve from specific cultural and socio-economic groups? Make sure your strategies will meet their needs.
Create forums for employer-to-employer storytelling. Employers want to hear from other employers about successful experiences integrating people with disabilities into their workforce. This means you’ll need to honor their viewpoints and invest time with them. Employers will listen to each other’s candid stories about how the effort involved in hiring and retaining a diverse workforce pays off.
Join boards and associations. These are powerful connectors to the world beyond your own agency. They can expand your reach to both the business community and other local entities.
Engage employers using what they value most: the bottom line. To get employers excited to hire, you’ll need to sell employee skill sets that meet a business need. This isn’t about charity or “doing the right thing”–it’s about the health of their company. Identify areas of employer inefficiency to show how hiring an individual with a disability will pay off.
To learn more, see these suggested resources and provider promising practices