Pathways to Careers

Pathways to Careers: Choosing the Path Less Traveled 

Forty years ago, only a very narrow path to employment lay open for Americans with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities (“I/DD”) and autism, often leading to congregate or sheltered employment. Americans not choosing this path remained unemployed; many elected to receive federal disability benefits. Over the last forty years, expectations and attitudes regarding the employment of Americans with I/DD and autism have changed dramatically. The goal of the Pathways to Careers Initiative is to create a new path to employment, one that leads to an informed choice of competitive, integrated, full-wage employment options for all individuals with I/DD and autism. One such new path is being cleared in Davis County, Utah; others are under development in Massachusetts, Michigan and Virginia. Work has also begun on the expansion of these new employment pathways to include Americans with serious mental illness (psychiatric disabilities). 

The Pathways to Careers Initiative relies upon state-of-the-art employment strategies to ensure both that these employment opportunities are available across a broad range of community settings and that ongoing assistance is provided to support employment retention and meaningful career development. Private, nonprofit and public employers are provided an incentive to hire and retain individuals with significant disabilities and, wherever possible, existing barriers and disincentives to full participation for individuals receiving federal disability benefits are removed or minimized. The operational philosophy of Pathways is characterized by principles of individualization and flexibility, informed choice and transparency, and long-term accountability. 

Pathways participants are randomly selected from among volunteers based on a “zero exclusion” philosophy that assumes that each participant can be presented an informed choice of employment options that includes integrated, competitive and full wage employment in the community. Pathways is an evolving experience in which the design is continually being refined to address the needs of the individuals with significant disabilities who are encountered and successfully served. It is, in the poet Robert Frost’s words, one where “way leads on to way.” I think we must follow Frost’s advice to take the path “less traveled by” because it will make “all the difference.” 

Martin Gerry 
September 2014

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