An Article by Melinda Mast & Michael Callahan
Marc Gold & Associates

In the early 1980’s the ecological inventory strategy for assisting people with disabilities in vocational settings was just beginning to gain importance (Brown, et al, 1986). This strategy was used in place of traditional assessments to assist people with disabilities to identify employment and life needs. Jan Nisbet and Michael Callahan experienced that the more significant a person’s disability, the greater the need for an individualized approach to employment (Nisbet & Callahan, 1987). They also found that traditional assessments only indicated what a person was not able to do. Even the ecological strategies were not focused enough to result in employment outcomes for people with the most severe disabilities. Nisbet and Callahan took the ecological inventory process one step further in implementing the Vocational Profile and the Profile Meeting. These two very critical strategies linked information about an individual with information about potential jobs for the individual.

The Vocational Profile and Profile Meeting approach was used extensively by United Cerebral Palsy Associations in a federally funded demonstration project from 1987-1990, which demonstrated that people with severe physical disabilities could successfully be employed. Using the Vocational Profile and Profile Meeting strategy to gather applicant information for job matching, 115 people with severe physical disabilities were assisted in finding employment (Callahan, 1991). They were employed in all areas of the labor market including data entry, janitorial, telephone operator, microfilming, mail clerk, printing, filing, hospital work and food preparation. This project demonstrated that people with severe physical disabilities can be successfully employed (Callahan, 1991).

And yet, years later, people with the most severe disabilities are not the people who are getting jobs through supported employment. Some of the providers utilizing the Profile strategy suggest that it does not result in employment outcomes.

When UCPA looked at this issue and worked with provider agencies that use the Vocational Profile strategy, the method of implementing the Profile came into question. Many facilitators were merely completing the form and missing the purpose and the importance of the information to be gathered. One provider hired an occupational therapist to complete the form. It was completed in two hours, nicely typed, and delivered back to the agency. Another provider, very proudly announced that the form was given directly to the applicant and the applicant was asked to complete it, with the assistance of someone in their home. In both of these instances, the Profile was used as a form. The agencies completely missed the significance of the connection between the relationship formed by the applicant and the facilitator and the facilitator’s ability to assist in finding a job.

The Vocational Profile strategy is an information gathering process… a guide which suggests questions to ask in order to discover information about an applicant. In addition, the time spent with the applicant and the relationship that is formed provides a facilitator the knowledge and insight into the life experiences and contributions of the applicant. These life experiences and contributions provide direction for employment. This approach differs from traditional assessments in that it doesn’t measure anything, and it supports utilizing involvement and interaction with the applicant in natural settings rather than in test settings. More importantly, it provides a complete picture of an applicant, rather than looking at one or two skill areas. A specific job can then be identified consistent with the person’s entire life, not merely from an instance of performance.

Who gathers the information on the applicant? The relationship between the person who gathers the information and identifying a good job match is directly related. The most appropriate person to assist in finding employment, is the person who knows the applicant the best. Conversely, the person developing the job, must be the person gathering the Vocational Profile information.

The Profile Meeting relates the information that is gathered to an individual job. It brings together the people most significant to the applicant, asks them to read the completed Vocational Profile and then come together in a meeting to provide assistance by linking the information of the applicant to a job. During the meeting, the applicant, with the assistance of the other people at the meeting, is asked to define an ideal employment situation based on his or her contributions, preferences and conditions. Using the definitions as a framework, job types and specific employers are identified that encompass aspects of the definition. People at the meeting are asked for assistance in using their knowledge of the applicant and their knowledge of the community. This results in a list of specific employers whose jobs match the interests and abilities of the applicant. A job developer will leave this meeting with a plan and specific contacts.

The Purposes of Person-Centered Planning

The use of a process such as the Vocational Profile requires that the facilitator understand why it necessary and what it is to accomplish. The purposes of the Vocational Profile, and other approaches to person-centered planning used for employment, are as follows.

  1. To link the individual with the subsequent job development efforts to be conducted and to the actual job tasks identified by the employer.
  2. To paint an accurate picture of the individual’s life and relationships.
  3. To stand against negative evaluations, reputations and perceptions which might exist concerning the individual.
  4. To welcome and empower others, especially those closest, into the life and employment outcomes of the individual.
  5. To develop relationships with potential connectors and mentors in the community.
  6. To assist with the transition from the individual’s current life circumstance to the life of an employee.
  7. And most importantly, to culminate in an individualized job for the person with a disability.

The following pages include an outline of the process of using the Vocational Profile and the Profile Meeting in identifying employment outcomes for people with severe physical disabilities.

Vocational Profile Activity

The Vocational Profile form is to be used as a guide in getting to know an applicant in order to assist in identifying his or her interests and job preferences. This activity is best completed by the person who will be doing the job development with the applicant. The more familiar a job developer is with an applicant, the easier it will be to facilitate a good job match.

This is not merely a form to be completed, but a process to get to know the applicant well enough that the information will lead to a job.

  1. The Profile starts at home. Once a person has been referred to a supported employment program, meet with the applicant and his/her parents, care giver, significant other. Explain the process of supported employment, the Profile process, the Profile meeting, job development activities, job training, and follow-up support. Answer all of the questions so there is a mutual understanding of the process. Stress that this is a process to be done together, you are not getting a job for the applicant but rather with the applicant, and it will take everyone’s assistance. Make appointments to begin the Profile activity.
  2. Read over the entire Profile form before meeting with the applicant in order to familiarize yourself with the information to be gathered. Information from several sections of the Vocational Profile form can be gathered during one meeting.
  3. Meet with the applicant at his/her home, or in a neutral site, to begin gathering personal/family information. Meeting at the home or in a neutral site sets up a personalized relationship. This is different from traditional approaches with a human service professional sitting behind the desk. Valuable information can be gathered by meeting in a person’s home. Look around, see what is on the walls and in the rooms. Notice the people who are around. If an applicant is unwilling to meet in his/her home, choose a local site. Meeting at a local library, for instance, will provide information on how the applicant reacts to other people and the transportation utilized, in addition to the basic information that might be gathered. Continue to stress the process of working together…this will be the applicant’s job and it will take working together to find the right job. Begin to identify and notice ways the applicant is interacting with his/her immediate surroundings.
  4. Ask the applicant to identify friends, parents, and supporters who can provide information. Arrange to speak with these people, and ask them to talk about the applicant’s interests and goals. Try to meet with several people to gather differing opinions. If the applicant does not want a particular person contacted, honor those wishes but explain the importance of the information that can be gathered by speaking with others. Many times friends are able to identify interests and abilities that might not even occur to the applicant.
  5. After the meeting, drive around the neighborhood where the applicant lives, to identify supports/businesses that are in the area. Make a list of the businesses in the area—one might be an ideal match. Neighbors and local business owners might be good friends of the applicant. Also make a list of the available transportation routes.
  6. Accompany the applicant on an outing, (go to a movie, a restaurant, a sports event or just walk around the neighborhood). Observe mobility, interactions with other people and situations, transportation abilities, money handling, reading directions, and other skills necessary to move about comfortably in the community.
  7. Observe the applicant in his/her own environment, doing routine activities. Discuss these routines and begin to identify favorite activities. It is very important to be able to spend some time in the home of the applicant. This provides vital information on the applicant in his/her most comfortable environment. Explain the importance of this information to an applicant who is reluctant to invite you into his/her home. Observe regular home routines as well as activities at a workshop or day program. Learn what an entire day is like from waking up to going to bed.
  8. Observe and/or discuss basic functional abilities such as personal care, dressing, eating, telling time, accessing transportation.
  9. Observe and/or discuss mobility, hearing, sight and speech abilities including observing use of arms, hands, ability to stand, transfer, maneuver their wheel chair effectively, use of communication devices.
  10. Identify and discuss interests and dreams, including the type of work the applicant wants and the type of work the parent/guardian feels is appropriate. Integrate this information with information from other people who have been talked with.
  11. Identify what social situations are preferred, the typical environment, the people who make up the social circle, and other preferred activities.
  12. Ask about potential employers within the family or among friends. Connections are important.
  13. Identify any accommodations, assistance, personal care that might be needed at a worksite.
  14. If necessary, read information provided from existing files. Keep this information in perspective with what you have experienced with the person. If you feel that this information is not necessary to complete the picture of the person, don’t use it.
  15. As various sections of the Vocational Profile form are completed, use positive language to describe the applicant being represented. Look at and identify possibilities. Review the completed form with the applicant. Make any necessary changes.

The Profile Meeting

The Vocational Profile Meeting is the culmination of the entire Vocational Profile process and is the tool that will lead to a job match. The purpose of this meeting is to clearly define an “ideal” employment situation based on all of the information gathered from the Vocational Profile. This information is then used to match the employment situation with actual employers in the community.

  1. Identify, with the applicant’s assistance, who is to be invited to attend the Profile Meeting. Consider all of the people involved with the applicant—friends, family, the mail man, the bus driver, VR counselor, who ever the applicant indicates. The majority of the people attending should favor family, friends, and other non-paid people, rather than staff who are paid to interact with the applicant.
  2. Discuss the Profile Meeting with the applicant and set a date and time. Ask the applicant to send a letter inviting the people to the meeting. Provide whatever assistance the applicant might need to contact these people. State the purpose of the meeting and provide each invited person with a completed Profile to read before the meeting. The sole purpose for this meeting is to identify employment possibilities. Employability for the applicant is already assumed. Now it is time to identify the position. Peripheral issues, especially those related to assumptions about employability, benefits, transportation, or “readiness” should be discussed at another time. The Profile Meeting should focus only on identifying employment possibilities and employment sites.
  3. Hold the meeting in a room large enough for everyone to be comfortable. If the applicant is willing, hold the meeting in his/her home. This continues to reinforce the message that the applicant is in charge of this process. But this meeting has a very serious goal and needs to be conducted from that standpoint.
  4. The meeting is best facilitated by the person who has completed the Profile process and will be doing the job development with the direction and guidance from the applicant. This allows the facilitator to keep the meeting focused on the task. Use a flip chart or blackboard to record information visually for the group.
  5. Introduce everyone and review the goals and guidelines for the meeting:
    a. employment is the goal
    b. the focus will be on employment possibilities
    c. other issues will be discussed at another time

    Example: It will take everyone here to assist in locating the best employment situation. We want to look at possibilities, not talk about impossibilities or limitations. We want to focus on identifying employers, other non-employment concerns can be dealt with at another time. This meeting is about identifying a job.

  6. Ask the applicant to describe his/her ideal job. Write on the flip chart, the key information that is given. Define the ideal job in terms of the applicants preferences, contributions, and conditions. Open this discussion to others in the room, realizing that the definitions by the applicant are the guidelines for the job and discussion should expand or enhance those criteria.

    Conditions: in a bright warm environment; want to work alone, but have people around; sitting job; within easy distance from home; can use public “call-a-ride”; part time; mornings or morning to early afternoon; little or no telephone work; repetitive work; work-station near to the accessible bathroom
    Preferences: use of the computer or microfiche; in a medical setting or office building; in a music store but no customer contact; at a radio or TV station where music is played; “I don’t want to work for…”
    Contributions: good attendance, gets along with everyone, is attentive to detail, knows every musical group since the seventies, WANTS TO WORK.

    Remove this page from the flip chart and hang it in a place where it is easily visible. Refer to it often.

  7. Once the job characteristics are identified and defined, begin to identify the types of employment situations in the area, that meet those criteria. List these on the flip chart. Begin with just three or four job types. Make sure that everyone is participating.

    1. data entry
    2. transcribing files
    3. insurance
    4. stock person at record store

  8. When the job types have been identified, specifically identify employers in the area who utilize those types of jobs. Be specific, naming businesses in the area. Be sure all of these businesses meet the key information identified in the applicant’s ideal job description.

    Data entry
    1. Memorial Medical Center
    2. SIU School of Medicine
    3. Horace Mann Insurance Company
    4. Franklin Life Insurance Company
    5. Family Medicine Clinic
    6. Lens Lab
    7. Department of Public Aid
    8. Inventory at Tower Records

     Stock Person
    1. Tower Records
    2. Sam Goody
    3. MusicLand
    4. Coconuts
    5. Best Buy
    6. Smith’s Old Records
    7. Municipal Library
    8. WQAP Radio station

    Give the applicant a chance to eliminate any of the listings he or she doesn’t want to pursue. Expand the categories.
    Example: What about looking for stocking jobs in places other than record stores, say at the hospital, at video stores, or department stores?

    Identify specific employers from each of those businesses.

  9. Ask if anyone in the room has a contact in that place, a name, or a friend who knows someone there. The more specific information that is available, the easier it is to make a good contact.

    Who knows someone at Memorial?
    ” I have a friend who works in the x-ray department that might be of help.”
    Will you contact your friend?
    ” Yes.”
    Will you contact them within the next week?
    ” Yes.”

    Write down on the flip chart the name of the person who will make the contact and when they agreed to make the contact.

  10. A critical step in this process is for the applicant to identify which places are preferences, which ones should be contacted first, second, and last.
  11. Record the information from the meeting on the Profile Meeting form.
  12. When the meeting is over, type up all of the information and mail it out to the meeting participants.
  13. Begin to contact employers from the list.
  14. Talk to the applicant as you call employers. Keep the applicant a vital part of the process.

This process results in a clear list of prospects for the job developer to use in beginning the job development phase, prospects that are specific to the applicant. The applicant needs to continue to be involved in each step beyond this point.


Brown, L., Albright, K., Solner, A., Shiraga, B., Rogan, P., York, J., VanDeventer, P., (1986). The Madison Strategy for Evaluating the Vocational Milieu of a Worker with Severe Intellectual Disabilities, University of Wisconsin and Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison, Wisconsin.

Callahan, Michael, (1991). Common Sense and Quality: Meaningful Employment Outcomes for Persons with Severe Physical Disabilities, The Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, &Vol. 1, No.2, 21-28.

Callahan, Michael, (1991). Final Report for United Cerebral Palsy Associations Three Year Demonstration Project on Supported Employment, United Cerebral Palsy Associations, Washington, DC.

Nisbet, J., Callahan, M., (1987). The Vocational Strategy, Marc Gold & Associates, Gautier, MS