Customized Employment Annotated Bibliography

Prepared for NSTTAC by Dawn A. Rowe September 15, 2009; Updated 9/7/10

Overview of Issue

Post-school outcome data continue to illustrate that individuals with significant disabilities have poor outcomes compared to individuals without disabilities in the area of employment. In evaluating data across disability categories such as specific mental retardation, autism, multiple disabilities, employment outcomes vary across disability area. Approximately 46% of youth with mental retardation, 46.9% of youth with autism, and 45.1% multiple disabilities were employed outside of the home one year out of high school compared to 67% of the general population (Newman et al., 2009). Only 25.3% of youth with mental retardation, 25.5% of youth with autism, and 36.9% of youth with multiple disabilities found jobs themselves. The remainder of students needed assistance from school personnel, employment agencies, or family and friends.

One way to assist students with disabilities in achieving their post-school goal of employment is customized employment. Customized employment is defined as:

Individualizing the employment relationship between employees and employers in ways that meet the needs of both. It is based on an individualized determination of the strengths, needs, and interests of the person with a disability, and is also designed to meet the specific needs of the employer. It may include employment developed through job carving, self-employment, or entrepreneurial initiatives, or other job development or restructuring strategies that result in job responsibilities being customized and individually negotiated to fit the needs of individuals with a disability. Customized employment assumes the provision of reasonable accommodations and supports necessary for the individual to perform the functions of a job that is individually negotiated and developed. (Federal Register, June 26, 2002, 2002, Vol. 67, No. 123 pp. 43154-43149)

Customized employment originated out of the efforts of the US Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, to design strategic planning and implementation activities to improve the employment and career advancement of people with disabilities through the One-Stop delivery system established under the Workforce Investment Act of 1988. The purpose of this annotated bibliography is to provide educators with sources that define customized employment, describe model demonstration projects and offer suggestions for developing customized employment opportunities with students.


Newman, L., Wagner, M., Cameto, R., Knokey, A. M. (2009). The Post-High School Outcomes of Youth With Disabilities up to 4 Years After High School. A Report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (NCSER 2009-3017). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

Certo, N. J., & Leucking, R. G. (2006). Service integration and school to work transition: Customized employment as an outcome for youth with significant disabilities. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 37(4), 29-35. [Descriptive]

  • Presented a model of transition service delivery designed to produce a seamless transition from school to work for youth with significant disabilities
  • Described how an interagency team integrated resources to enable youth to obtain employment prior to exiting high school, maintain employment after high school, and continue to receive ongoing support
  • Illustrated how combining this transition service delivery model with customized employment strategies could potentially improve outcomes for students with disabilities

Citron, T., Brooks-Lane, N., Crandell, D., Brady, K., Cooper, M., & Revell, G. (2008). A revolution in the employment process of individuals with disabilities: Customized employment as the catalyst for system change. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 28, 169-179. [Descriptive]

  • Described Project Exceed, a five year collaborative project designed to move individuals with developmental disabilities out of day programs and into customized employment
  • Described components of a systematic organizational change effort
    • Staff development using low cost, hands-on approach, guided by input and direction from agency leaders to increase overall staff knowledge base
    • Community partnerships and diversified funding through networking and shared funding through the Workforce Investment Act and local One Stop Career Centers
    • Increasing sustainability by provider and individual becoming fully aware of resources available, communicating, and focusing on the individual
    • Shift in managerial approaches and supervision by offering staff different support roles based on their interests and skill sets
    • Human resource processes which included; better advertisement of job openings, an improved interview tool, improved selection process, and expanded customized employment to diverse populations
  • Provided two case studies of customized employment
  • Described issues experienced when striving for organizational change such as funding sources and varying agency policies

Condon, E., & Callahan, M. (2008). Individualized career planning for students with significant support needs utilizing the discovery and vocational profile process, cross-agency collaborative funding and social security work incentives. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 28, 85-96. [Descriptive]

  • Described an individualized career planning model which included customized employment opportunities, entrepreneurial options or self-employment, utilizing social security work incentives, and agency linkages
  • Provided an example of how the model was implemented in Montana

Elinson, L., Frey, W. D., Li, T., Palan, M. A., & Horne, R. L. (2008). Evaluation of customized employment in building the capacity of the workforce development system. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 28, 141-158. [Program Evaluation]

  • Described the evaluation of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) demonstration program for customized employment
  • Reported positive outcomes of individuals who participated in the program in the areas of services received and employment such as job maintenance average wage earnings above minimum wage
  • Identified and described system changes that occurred during the project
    • Capacity building activities
    • Coordination of services
    • Customization of services
  • Identified and described and barriers that prevented system change from taking place

Griffin, C., Hammis, D., Geary, T., & Sullivan, M. (2008). Customized employment: Where we are; where we're headed. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 28, 135-139. [Descriptive]

  • Provided Federal Register definition of customized employment
  • Identified principal hallmarks and activities of customized employment
  • Provided a brief overview of post-school outcomes for individuals with disabilities
  • Described the process of customized employment which incorporates interest-based negotiations between the job seeker and the employer, reduces stereotypical jobs, and aligns a job to an individual's strengths.

Inge, K. J. (2006). Customized employment: A growing strategy for facilitating inclusive employment. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 24, 191-193. [Descriptive]

  • Described a brief history of customized employment
  • Advocated for Community Rehabilitation Providers to implement best practices that result in inclusive competitive employment outcomes
  • Provided an overview of funding and technical assistance available through ODEP

Inge, K. J. (2007). Demystifying customized employment for individuals with significant disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 26, 63-66. [Descriptive]

  • Provided questions and answers that offer insight into how customized employment can lead to integrated employment outcomes for individuals with significant disabilities
  • Answered questions such as:
    • How can I convince an employer to hire an individual with a significant disability?
    • How can an individual with intensive support needs, become independent in a community job?
    • Would it not be easier for individuals with significant disabilities to learn skills before placed in a community job?
    • Can individuals with challenging behaviors work in the community?
    • Do employers and coworkers have time to provide needed support and supervision for an individual with a significant disability?

Inge, K. J., & Targett, P. (2008). Customized employment and disclosure. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 28, 129-132. [Descriptive]

  • Provided questions and answers that offer insight into key considerations for achieving effective disclosure in employment settings
  • Answered questions such as:
    • Why should an individual consider disclosing his or her disability?
    • Can disclosure help overcome an employer's concerns of hiring a person with a disability?
    • What are the advantages of disclosing one's disability?
    • How can a creative job search minimize the need to disclose one's disability?

Luecking, R. G., Cuozzo, L., & Buchanan, L. (2006). Demand-side workforce needs and the potential for job customization. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 37, 5-13. [Survey]

  • Described results of a survey of employers who hired individuals with significant disabilities into customized positions about their perceptions of the experience. For example:
    • Job customization met employers needs, helped meet production goals, and improved customer satisfaction
    • All respondents stated they would recommend this approach to employment to other employers
  • Provided examples of customized jobs in several industries (e.g., retail, government)

Luecking, D. M., Gumpman, P., Saecker, L., & Cihak, D. (2006). Perceived quality of life changes of job seekers with significant disabilities who participated in a customized employment process. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 37, 22-28. [Descriptive]

  • Described results of a study that examined quality of life for job seekers with significant disabilities who participated in a customized employment process
    • Average hourly wage $6.36
    • Average hours worked per week 16.45
    • Participants attained significantly higher quality of life ratings from time one, to time two, to time three
  • Found that the customized employment process did improve the participants' perceptions toward their quality of life
    • Specific quality of life indicators that made significant gains across time as a result of customized employment were health, making choices, getting along with family, getting along with friends, getting out and around, what I do all day, speaking up for myself, making decisions, asking for help, getting along with staff, happiness, and working through problems

Luecking, D. M., & Luecking, R. G. (2006). A descriptive study of customizing the employment process for job seekers with significant disabilities. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 37, 14-21. [Descriptive]

  • Described employment outcomes of individuals who participated in the Tennessee Customized Employment Partnership (TCEP) program from 2001 through 2006
    • Average hourly wage at placement ranged from minimum wage to $11.50
    • Average work hours per ranged from 11 to 40
    • Nine individuals received health insurance from their employers
  • Provided examples of customized jobs in a variety of industries (e.g., health care, education, technical services, retail, food services, manufacturing)
  • Illustrated how job seekers interests, preferences, and aptitudes evolved over time leading to person-centered job searches and placements

Nicholas, R. B., Luecking, R. G., & Luecking, D. M. (2006). Customized employment: From practice to policy. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 37, 36-42.

  • Described barriers that must be overcome to facilitate progress in employing people with significant disabilities (i.e., service silos, limited mechanisms for seamless transition, limited service capacity of disability employment agencies)
  • Presented customized employment as a strategy for promoting employment for individuals with significant disabilities

Phillips, W. L., Callahan, M., Shumpert, N., Puckett, K., Petrey, R., Summers, K., & Phillips, L. (2009). Customized transitions: Discovering the best in us. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 30, 49-55.

  • Described a transition program that involved discovery, work exploration, strengths-based client profile, job development, and customized employment at a rural high school in Kentucky
  • Discussed how special education and vocational rehabilitation shared funding responsibilities for this project

Revell, W. G., & Inge, K. J. (2007). Customized employment Q and A: Funding consumer-directed employment outcomes. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 26, 123-127. [Descriptive]

  • Reviewed practices for funding consumer-directed, customized employment outcomes
  • Provided examples of how community rehabilitation programs can encourage and support consumer-directed programs

Rogers, C. Lavin, D., Tran, T., Gantenbein, T., & Sharpe, M. (2008). Customized employment: Changing what it means to be qualified in the workforce for transition-aged youth and young adults. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 28, 191-207.

  • Described employment outcomes of individuals who participated in the Anoka County Transition and Customized Employment Project (TCE) project
  • Described key components of the TCE project that led to its success 
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