TEXAS COUNCIL for
DEVELOPMENTAL
DISABILITIES

The Organization Making Waves in Employment First

APSE logo in blue and green. To the right, an image of three men working around a laptop. One of the men is using a wheelchair.

The Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) is the only national organization that works exclusively on developing and implementing Employment First. Employment First is a policy that enforces the full inclusion of people with disabilities with competitive integrated employment. According to the APSE website, APSE members “recognize that everyone has abilities to contribute and their work should be recognized and rewarded with fair pay, creating inclusive workplaces. Employment enriches and adds meaning to every life, and workplaces and communities are enhanced when they embrace differences.” APSE achieves its mission by bringing together individuals from different backgrounds such as policy specialists, service providers, and self-advocates to educate others and inspire change.

In 2018, Britni Miles with Lucy Gafford, Debbie Wilkes, and Norine Jaloway Gill facilitated a statewide Texas APSE Kick-Off Meeting to put grant funding toward starting a chapter. This meeting was attended by over 200 people. It was a catalyst for forming a board and strategic goals to improve the failing employment services system for people with disabilities while promoting Employment First principles throughout Texas. As a result, in October 2020, the Texas Secretary of State approved Texas APSE as an official 501c (6), and Texas APSE was incorporated as a state chapter under national APSE. Since its conception, Texas APSE has nearly doubled membership, published two white papers on TWC-VR and HHSC Supported Employment, and created five-chapter committees. APSE committees include Public Policy, Professional Development, Membership, Communications, and Executive, and they work together to accomplish strategic goals and advance Employment First in Texas.

Since it has been reestablished in Texas, APSE and TCDD have built a strong relationship, rising from the foundational perspective that every Texan with disabilities deserves every opportunity to access competitive and integrated employment. The collaboration began when previous TCDD Communications Director, Joshua Ryf, joined the Texas APSE Board to help strengthen its materials and social media presence. These efforts helped to mature the chapter and set up technology and communication tools that positioned the chapter for future growth and development.

In 2020, Texas APSE welcomed another TCDD staff member to its Board of Directors as a policy professional. Lauren Gerken and fellow board members made waves during the 87th Legislative Session working on Senator Zaffirini’s SB 50, which relates to employment services for certain Medicaid waiver recipients. Texas APSE President Britni Miles worked closely with Lauren to learn more about the legislative process and engage the board in advocacy work. “Texas APSE knows that for Employment First to be a reality for all Texans that improvements in the TWC-VR service delivery system are necessary. However, HHSC’s implementation of various Medicaid Waiver Employment Services is crucial to improve employment outcomes for people with the most significant disabilities,” says Britni Miles. She added, “Currently, less than 2% of Medicaid Waiver recipients are accessing employment services, which is not in line with the Employment First policy Texas adopted over eight years ago. SB 50 will help spur action and, hopefully, HHSC will rise to the occasion and meet Employment First policy in a real tangible way for the people they serve.” By the end of the 87th regular session, board members could proudly say they played a significant part in passing SB 50. 

Over the summer, Texas APSE did not rest. The board voted to establish a Membership Committee, seeing great potential in recruiting more passionate individuals to further the implementation of Employment First in Texas. Committee chair Joanna Burnet has been working creatively and tirelessly to find ways to reach Texans statewide despite social restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The membership has been hosting and continues to host virtual membership get-togethers, where current members can meet and those interested in getting involved in Texas APSE can get a better idea of what the organization does. Attendees are typically enrolled in a raffle for a free membership. In an interest to support Texas APSE’s work reaching the people who carry out Employment First goals, the Membership Committee is currently running an essay-writing contest for direct support professionals. 

The essay-writing contest is just one of the ways Texas APSE is celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month. On October 18th at 4:00pm CST, Texas APSE is hosting an Employment First Q&A via Zoom. It will be a great opportunity to learn more about what Employment First is, what it should look like, and what Texas is doing to help the policy reach its full potential. It is also a chance to increase your disability employment awareness.

Texas APSE and TCDD both celebrate employment awareness and Employment First year-round. Texas APSE will remain busy, building its communications presence, growing its membership, and working with decision-makers to expand employment opportunities and improve employment access policies for Texans with disabilities. If you are interested in joining employment initiatives, please reach out to lauren.gerken@tcdd.texas.gov or txapse@apse.org.

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