Using Discovery and the Vocational Profile Strategy

Using Discovery and the Vocational Profile Strategy as the Foundation for Employment Planning and as an Alternative to Traditional Evaluation

Michael Callahan, Marc Gold & Associates, &
Employment for All with
Norciva Shumpert & Melinda Mast
Marc Gold & Associates/EFA
Revised 2001

Supported employment has caused a stir of excitement in the human service field due to its assumption that employment is possible for all persons, especially those once considered too disabled to be employable through traditional vocational rehabilitation services. Even though much has changed in the past 15 years, access to supported employment and the kind of job deemed a likely match remain dependent upon the results of a comparative evaluation. The federal regulations for supported employment in the Rehabilitation Act through the 1986 amendments called for an evaluation which indicates “rehabilitation potential” and “the ability or potential to engage in a training program leading to supported employment” in order to be eligible for services. Even though the 1992 and 1998 amendments to the Rehab Act attempted to resolve the feasibility issue by directing counselors that applicants for services are “generally considered to be feasible for employment, unless clear and convincing evidence indicates otherwise”, problems remain. The reality continues that the procedures utilized traditionally to evaluate feasibility will likely be the same used to guide job match for applicants for supported employment. Many persons will simply miss out once again for an opportunity to be employed in a job of their own preference.

In order to avoid further exclusion of people with significant disabilities, it is important to understand the role of evaluation. Evaluations have traditionally attempted to provide information in three areas:

  • Eligibility
  • Employability
  • Job Matching


Since most of the resources currently available for funding of supported employment services are being funneled through state rehabilitation agencies, it is often necessary for applicants to be evaluated to determine their eligibility for rehab services. The good news is that, even though these evaluations may often be inconvenient, demeaning and redundant, persons who need supported employment services to become employed will typically be ruled eligible without undue problems. Medical and psychological data are strongly relied upon to make eligibility determinations.


The area of employability raises concerns — and contradictions — for access to supported employment. It would be accurate to say that supported employment originated as a concept which made the assumption that any person old enough to work was employable. Rehab traditionalists often scoff at this notion, but there are clear examples of the concept in other areas of our society. For instance, the U.S. Constitution views all citizens as equal under the law. However, most citizens would probably agree that some people are treated more fairly than others — for a variety of reasons. Even though this inconsistency exists, we continue to maintain the notion of equality, without the need to prove worthiness. Instances of unequal treatment are viewed as problems of the system — challenges to be fixed — rather than as characteristic of the persons involved. Similarly, if we consider employability as a characteristic of all persons with disabilities, all persons who are interested in working can have access to the service. Difficulties and problems in providing employment can then be viewed as challenges to the system to be overcome.

Traditional assessment however, plays a much different role. The assumption is made that employability is a “yes/no” question. Therefore, the purpose of evaluation is to answer the question. This clearly conflicts with the concept of supported employment. If the result of an evaluation is “no”, it means that an applicant will not have access to the opportunity for regular employment in the community.

We can guard against having a person with significant disabilities determined as ineligible by using the law and regulations. The current federal regulations for V.R. call for a general acceptance of feasibility for all applicants. If an applicant for supported employment services is likely to be, or has been, ruled ineligible due to an employability evaluation, the service provider, the applicant, parents or advocates should request a review through the Client Assistance Program (CAP). Congress directed rehabilitation personnel that the evidence necessary to indicate “non-feasibility” must reflect the “highest standard” of certainty. This means that simply testing persons on standardized, competitive procedures will no longer constitute acceptable proof to deny services.

It is now clear that the issue of employability determination has little to do with ability to work and has everything to do with the political issue of money and resources. Supported employment providers should work diligently to insure that applicants are evaluated as little as possible in this area. Persons with significant disabilities, who need the assistance of supported employment to be employed, benefit from a personalized process which reveals who they are and what they want followed by an analysis performed on the site of a job developed especially for them. That evaluation would clearly indicate the training, supports and accommodations required for successful employment. This process might also indicate that a specific site is inappropriate and provide direction in the development of a subsequent evaluation site. The benefit of this approach, of course, is that if the evaluation is successful, the applicant already has a job. In this approach, every supported job becomes an evaluation.

Job Matching

An effective and fair “evaluation” should start with the premise that an applicant is employable. The results of the evaluation should offer accurate information for service/support needs and job matching. Ironically, the same evaluations which have traditionally been used to determine that persons with significant disabilities were unemployable, are often touted as providing useful information for job matching. It just doesn’t make sense.

Additionally, standardized evaluations have relied almost exclusively on prediction, relating to work skills, as the basis of effective job matching. The importance of prediction is questioned every time a worker with a disability loses a job and the counselor/job trainer/employer states, “It wasn’t the job skills, it was everything else that caused the problem!”. This common situation exposes the narrow importance of work skill performance as a predictor in job matching.

Effective job matching requires a much more comprehensive, ecological view of the applicant. The concept of “evaluation” should diminish and the notions of discovery, vision, cooperation, association, and preference should emerge. The Vocational Profile strategy is one of a number of approaches which attempts to provide effective job matching without relying on testing and exclusion.

Discovery and the Vocational Profile

Since eligibility is virtually assured and employability is now to be assumed for persons with significant disabilities, the most compelling reason to gather information on an applicant for supported employment is to achieve the best job match possible. The Vocational Profile strategy for job matching attempts to balance the need to compile accurate and meaningful information with natural and individualized aspects of acquiring employment. The strategy recognizes the importance of focusing on the applicant’s demonstrated skills, experiences, home, family, friends, neighborhood, informal supports, preferences, connections and need for accommodation. Upon reflection, these are the same considerations which all of us use in looking for a good job.

The process is based on a new touchstone for employment and rehabilitation — discovery. Discovery refers to a set of strategies that explore the lives of persons with disabilities as a means of gaining necessary information and perspective as opposed to traditional approaches that require individuals to perform and compare their performance against others or standards as an indication of one’s skills and needs.

How Discovery Differs from Traditional Assessment/Evaluation Procedures
Discovery within the context of the Vocational Profile strategy is an information gathering process, a guide that 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. The Vocational Profile strategy for job matching attempts to balance the need to compile accurate and meaningful information with the natural and individualized aspects of acquiring employment. The strategy recognizes the importance of focusing on the applicant’s demonstrated skills, experiences, home, family, friends, neighborhood, informal supports, preferences, connections and need for accommodation. Upon reflection, these are the same considerations which all of us use in looking for a good job.

The Profile will serve as the process which drives the job development efforts. This is in contrast to jobs which were developed due to decisions of the agency or the jobs which happened to be open in the community. It is a strategy through which we as service providers give up much of our power (though not our responsibility) and offer it to the applicants and their families. The Profile begins with the notion of employability for all applicants and culminates each time a good job is developed. In between, the employment specialist works closely with the applicant, the family, friends, contacts, rehab counselors, direct service personnel and others to discover all the useful information which exists in order to make an effective job match. The process is cooperative rather than evaluative, optimistic rather than pessimistic, inclusive rather than exclusive, equal rather than hierarchical and it empowers rather than divests the persons it involves. The relationship between the person who gathers the information and identifying a good job match is directly related to success. The most appropriate person to assist in identifying, developing and negotiating employment is the person who knows the applicant the best. Conversely, the person developing the job should ideally be the person primarily for Discovery and the Profile.

  1. The Vocational Profile seeks to discover already-existing information rather than using information developed solely for the purposes of evaluation. Choosing a particular job for a person is based on information obtained from the person’s entire life and not from an instance of performance.
  2. The Profile is used only as a guide for matching an individual to an appropriate job and is not intended to systematically exclude a person from a certain job.
  3. The Profile seeks to have ecological validity rather than predictive validity. It is more important that a match makes sense in relation to a person’s life than to attempt to predict success. Predicting measures almost invariably predict failure for persons with significant disabilities.
  4. The use of the Profile frees the applicant from the necessity of taking standardized or norm-referenced tests to prove their readiness. Readiness to begin work is assumed for all applicants.
  5. The use of a Profile indicates a belief that a person’s skills, experiences, available supports, preferences, needs and living situation cannot be best captured on a standardized checklist. A format composed of open-ended categories allows for each person to be described in a unique manner.
  6. The Profile strategy seeks to empower and involve applicants, their families and friends rather than to exclude them. Natural, common sense approaches to employment are given priority over strategies which rely solely on professional judgement and service.

Guideline for Developing a Profile

  1. Begin discovery by arranging to meet with the person of concern and his/her parents or representatives at the person’s home. This meeting should serve as the basis for compiling information necessary to complete the Profile. The meeting should last approximately 1½ hours. Permission should be obtained to perform the following activities.
  2. Before or after the meeting, drive or walk throughout the immediate neighborhood for a radius of about 1/4 to1/2 mile. Note appropriate dimensions outlined on Profile.
  3. Compile an inventory of businesses which are in reasonable proximity to the applicant’s home and means of transportation. This listing can be done while driving in a car or while riding a bus which serves the applicant’s neighborhood. The list should be as comprehensive as possible as it becomes the basis for the prospect list during the Vocational Profile meeting.
  4. Meet with and interview selected direct service staff who have provided the person of concern with services and supports.
  5. Contact and interview advocates and close friends of the person to gain information concerning the persons’s social life, preferences and connections.
  6. Observe the person (with his/her permission) during the activities which comprise the majority of his/her day and find times to simply be with the person in an informal context.
  7. Accompany the person on a planned community-based activity. Note the amount of assistance required, the person’s attention to natural cues, his/her reaction to the activity and any important behavior changes. (Examples: Going out to eat, going on a shopping trip, going to a movie, etc.)
  8. Review files and records of current and past services provided to the individual, including IEPs.
  9. Compile all information using the Vocational Profile form, using complete sentences and descriptive narrative as much as possible.
  10. Distribute the completed Profile to all persons involved in the employment of the applicant (with permission): the applicant, parents, employment specialist, rehab counselor, etc.

Considerations in Compiling a Vocational Profile

  1. Fill out the Profile form using positive language. Since the purpose of the Profile is to provide an ecologically valid “picture” of the applicant, all information should relate to facilitating successful living and working opportunities for the person being profiled.
  2. Any significant physical or intellectual disabilities or “inappropriate” behaviors should be referenced to the specific instances that they are problematic. The person of concern should not be described in sweeping generalizations such as “self-injurious” or “aggressive”. Cite specific contexts and examples.
  3. Ask the person, or his/her parent or representative if more appropriate, to review the Profile when completed. Ask if items should be added or deleted from the Profile.
  4. Continue to update the Profile as new information is developed.
  5. Make every attempt to involve the applicant and his/her parents in every aspect of finding employment. Ask for referrals, ideas and support from the family.
  6. Frame the entire process from the applicant’s perspective rather than from the agency’s perspective.
  7. The entire Profile activity takes approximately 16 – 24 hours of time to complete and is usually accomplished in two to three weeks. Resist the temptation to take short cuts.

References for Vocational Profile:

Callahan, M. & Garner J. (1997) Keys to the Workplace. Baltimore: Paul Brookes Publishing.

Callahan, M., Mast, M. Carson, B. & Sweeney, J. (Eds.). (1993). Self-Directed Staff Training Curriculum for Supported Employment. Washington, DC: United Cerebral Palsy Associations. The Vocational Profile: An Alternative to Traditional Evaluation

Callahan, M. (1991). “Common Sense and Quality: Meaningful Employment Outcomes for Persons with Severe Physical Disabilities”. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation. 1, (2). pp.21-28.

Mast, M. & Callahan (1996) The Vocational Profile: A process not a form. Gautier, MS: Marc Gold & Associates.

Mcloughlin, C. Garner, J. & Callahan, M. (Eds.). (1987) Getting Employed, Staying Employed, Baltimore: Paul Brookes Publishing.