Employment First

Employment First Logo

Illinois Employment First is supported by Illinois State Law, Executive Order and policies that promote community-based, integrated employment as the first option for employment-related services for individuals with disabilities, physical, intellectual, or behavioral.  The idea is that all Illinois citizens, regardless of disability, are capable of full participation and integration in their communities and that includes employment. 

Illinois Policy

Illinois has adopted an Employment First policy via the Employment First Act (20 ILCS 40) in 2013.  This law states that "competitive and integrated employment shall be considered the first option when serving persons with disabilities of working age" and requires all State agencies to follow the policy as well as ensure its effective implementation within their programs and services. 

Additionally, Illinois has an Executive Order (14-08) that requires the participation of multiple state agencies to fully implement Employment First across the State.  The state agencies include:  the Department of Human Services, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Department of Employment Security, the Department of Central Management Services, the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the State Board of Education, the Board of Higher Education, the Community College Board, and the Council on Developmental Disabilities.  The Order requires the above agencies to look at everything from policies to funding to partnerships all focused around the goal of integrated employment for individuals with disabilities.

Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program

Employment First has become a critical priority for the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).  In order to help states invest in systems change efforts, ODEP developed the Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program (EFSLMP).  Illinois participated as a core state in the Program for FY 2015 and was recently announced as a participant for FY 2016 as well.  Through this work, Illinois will work directly with state agency staff, provider agencies, direct support professionals, and advocates to identify ways to better serve individuals with disabilities or mental illness who utilize supported employment services. 

The objectives of the Program include: 

  • Providing mentoring, technical assistance and training via subject matter experts;
  • Facilitating virtual training on effective practices;
  • Facilitating dialogue on experiences around the implementation of Employment First strategies;
  • Linking states with Federal initiatives as an effort to further facilitate EMployment First change; and
  • Evaluating investments in order to discover best practices for successful implementation of Employment First. 

 to increase community-based, integrated employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. 

Employment First Resources:

U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy - Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program

U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration (Federal Vocational Rehabilitation)

Illinois Division of Rehabilitation Services - Vocational Rehabilitation

Success Stories

Lee Tewell

COUNTRY Financial

Kyle Horn, founder and director of America's Job Honor Awards, congratulated this year's honorees. "Illinois is celebrating a new kind of hero," says Horn. "These amazing honorees demonstrate that Illinoisans who overcome patterns of failure or challenges such as disability are not only highly qualified employees, but frequently they demonstrate remarkable work ethic and loyalty." Honoree Lee Tewell adds his own words of encouragement to Illinois employers: "Just know that we are normal people, and we have as much right to work as anybody else. You don't know until you give us a chance."

  • LA-CO Industries:

A video highlighting the success of LA-CO employees who have disabilities and showcasing the positive impact of the process outlined in the HOPE Handbook can be viewed here:https://youtu.be/7b8XTbeD7yc

Job Development Resources

The archive of Diversity Partners' December 5th webinar: "The Do's and Don'ts of Engaging with Employers"

As an employment services professional, building relationships with employers is a critical skill to help job seekers with disabilities find work. This relationship usually begins with a conversation about employer needs, and/or the qualifications of a job seeker to meet those needs. Join Diversity Partners faculty Kathleen Lee, and Rick Laferriere, Lead Manager of Workforce Initiatives at CVS Health, for an interactive presentation on the "dos" and "don'ts" of engaging with employers on behalf of job seekers with disabilities. View the presentation.

The Diversity Partners Project website contains no-cost online toolboxes for leadership and frontline staff, supported by on-demand technical assistance and training from our team of subject matter experts at Cornell University's Yang-Tan Institute on Employment & Disability.

The Diversity Partners Project is for employment service professionals who wish to improve overall excellence in serving job seekers with disabilities, and to leverage existing business relationships to benefit those job seekers. The website contains over 20 learning modules for frontline staff, as well as information and guidance for organizational leaders.


Engaging Employers: A Guide for Disability and Workforce Development Service Providers


Career Exploration & Job Search



O-Net Online

Ability Links

Getting Hired

Job Accommodations

Jan Video

JAN is here for YOU!

Want to learn more about workplace solutions for individuals with disabilities? The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free service of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, is the national resource that can provide you with confidential, expert, and accurate technical assistance about job accommodations and employment laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Rehabilitation Act. Employers, individuals, service providers, and others can use JAN at no cost! Learn more about how JAN can help you increase the productivity of your workplace using low-cost, practical solutions to accommodation situations.

Work Support

Employer Resources

The NIDILRR-funded project on Vocational Rehabilitation and Developing Strategies to Meet Employer Needs in Changing Economic Environments (Demand-Side RRTC) has created a series of videos, VR Voices: Video Booth. John Marchioro from the Illinois Division of Rehabilitation Services shares his thoughts and strategies on how DRS is identifying and meeting the needs of employers while creating long lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. John Marchioro, DRS Directory of Training Video

DRS Success: Employers

Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion

Chicagoland Business Leadership Network

National Organization on Disability

Employment First Video 

Talking to Managers about Disability: New Communication Tools from the Northeast ADA Center


HOPE Disability Hiring Handbook (pdf)


Introduction to the ADA

"The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life -- to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin - and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 -- the ADA is an "equal opportunity" law for people with disabilities.

To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered."



EFSLMP Webinars - 2016

Individual Placement and Support (IPS)

Overview of Individualized Placement and Supports, IPS Supported Employment

IPS supported employment helps people with severe mental illness work at regular jobs of

their choosing. Although variations of supported employment exist, IPS (Individual

Placement and Support) refers to the evidence-based practice of supported employment.

Characteristics of IPS Supported Employment

  • It is an evidence-based practice
  • Practitioners focus on each person's strengths
  • Work promotes recovery and wellness
  • Practitioners work in collaboration with state vocational rehabilitation counselors
  • IPS uses a multidisciplinary team approach
  • Services are individualized and long lasting
  • The IPS approach changes the way mental health services are delivered

To learn more about this service please visit the Illinois IPS website.

Illinois Individual Placement and Support

Evaluation of the Balancing Incentive Project for Individual Placement and Support Programs in the State of Illinois - Dartmouth, Geisel School of Medicine (pdf)

Financial Literacy

FDIC Money Smart 

Your Money, Your Goals is a toolkit that social services organizations can use to help their clients set goals, choose financial products and build skills in managing money, credit, and debt. Learn more:


ABLE Accounts

What is an ABLE account?

"A Better Life Experience" or ABLE accounts change the way individuals with disabilities and their families can participate in the community, build financial wellness and plan for their futures. Opening an Illinois ABLE account empowers qualifying individuals with disabilities to save and invest for the additional expenses that come with having a disability without losing, or losing access to federal means-tested benefits. Illinois ABLE accounts foster person-centered independence, build self-reliance, encourage employment and improve quality of life. Contributions to ABLE accounts can come from earnings, family, friends and other sources. Earnings on ABLE accounts are tax-deferred, and withdrawals are tax-free as long as they are used for qualified disability-related expenses."

For more information visit:


Sign up for an ABLE Account:

New Illinois ABLE helps individuals save, while preserving their SSI and Medicaid.