Iowa UCEDD Collaborating to Make "Employment First" a Reality in Iowa

November 2, 2015

On September 29 and 30, the Iowa Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) held its annual employment summit in Des Moines.  Dr. SueAnn Morrow, an Employment Services Specialist with the Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD-Iowa's UCEDD), working with Iowa's Money Follows the Person program which CDD administers, served as a conference coordinator.  She reports that over 150 individuals attended the summit, and that it was one of the most successful in her tenure as an Iowa APSE board member.

The model for planning and carrying out this year's summit presents a concrete illustration of how Iowa's cross-agency and cross-project collaboration is advancing the goal of integrated employment for all.  Iowa's Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program (EFSLMP), funded by the US Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy and administered by Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services and the AIDD-funded Iowa Coalition for Integrated Employment (ICIE) grant administered by the Iowa DD Council, provided substantial financial and in-kind support by contributing staff time and sponsoring a diverse group of nationally-recognized presenters who shared their expertise on moving toward a system which prioritizes competitive employment.  Iowa Medicaid Enterprise, a division of the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS), supported MFP staff time to organize and provide administrative support for the summit.  In addition, CDD's Iowa Program for Assistive Technology funded a day-long workshop in partnership with Easter Seals Iowa to demonstrate how technology can be used to support the employment of persons with significant disabilities.

The high-level collaboration which led to the success of the 2015 Iowa APSE summit is the norm rather than the exception in Iowa.  According to Dr. Morrow, this "culture of collaboration" began in 2009 when the CDD-administered Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG) hosted 14 focus groups and Iowa's first Employment First summit.  During the focus groups and at the summit, participants brainstormed ideas for making competitive employment the desired outcome for Iowans served through publicly funded programs.  Workgroups which subsequently formed to advance the cause of Employment First included representation from state agencies, community providers, and policy advocates.  The MIG grant also funded Iowa's initial membership in the State Employment Leadership Network (SELN).  A collaboration between the Institute for Community Inclusion/UCEDD and the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disability Services, SELN brought invaluable technical assistance to the state that further helped Iowa put the infrastructure in place to successfully compete for both the EFSLMP and ICIE grants. 

According to CDD Program Manager Tammie Amsbaugh, who oversees activity under the Iowa UCEDD's employment goal, the unprecedented collaboration across grants and programs in Iowa fosters an environment conducive to state-level systems transformation.  To illustrate, DHS, which subcontracts with CDD for a portion of Amsbaugh's time, has authorized her to use some of that time to work with ICIE on its statewide outcome reporting goals.  This work has included a pilot data collection project designed to gather input on a performance measurement process which would establish baselines and chart progress toward the desired goal of competitive employment for all.  The pilot data collection project, in turn, contributes to the work of DHS in implementation of its comprehensive outcomes and performance measurement process.

Befitting of a UCEDD, CDD is contributing to Iowa's Employment First effort by lending staff expertise across core functions.  Both Amsbaugh and Dr. Morrow provide technical assistance through policy analysis, writing administrative rules, and most recently contributing to the development of an Employment First guidebook.  As an Employment Services Specialist, Dr. Morrow provides direct service on a daily basis through job development and support.  Finally, CDD's newly-established transition clinic is creating the expectation of competitive employment among youth with disabilities and their families.  Thanks to the collaborative employment systems transformation work happening in Iowa, that expectation will become reality.

For more information about Iowa's Employment first initiatives, visit