In 2014, the Kessler Foundation awarded a Signature Employment Grant to the VKC UCEDD, along with three other UCEDDs, focused on focused on building the capacity of faith communities to support employment for members with disabilities.
The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (TN UCEDD) has been the lead site for the project, under the direction of Erik Carter, Ph.D., Professor of Special Education. Partners include the Human Development Institute (KY UCEDD, the Texas Center for Disability Studies (TX UCEDD), and the Institute on Community Integration (MN UCEDD). All UCEDDs are members of the National Collaborative on Disabilities, Religion, and Spirituality.
Each UCEDD worked with congregations reflecting a breadth of faith traditions to support individuals with physical and/or developmental disabilities to secure and maintain employment in the community. An overarching goal of the project was to develop an accessible, step-by-step manual that details key elements of the approach and that could be drawn upon by any of the more than 335,000 congregations nationwide. The manual is available for purchase here.
“Our model carefully integrates discovery approaches, natural supports, and customized employment features and delivers them through faith networks,” said Carter. “But it also builds upon scriptural understandings of the dignity of work, stewardship of one's talents/gifts, and the responsibility of the community both to support those ‘on the margins.’ We are convinced that we must work both within and beyond the formal service system if we are going to fundamentally change the employment landscape for Americans with disabilities.”