Business & Society

$500,000 Grant Funds IDRPP's Customized Employment Training

By JoLynne Lyon |

Tricia Jones-Parkin of the Institute for Disability Research, Policy & Practice is principal investigator for a $500,000 grant from Utah's Department of Workforce Services to boost customized employment for people with disabilities in Utah.

Specialists from the Institute for Disability Research, Policy & Practice at Utah State University have received nearly $500,000 from Utah’s Department of Workforce Services to continue their work on bolstering customized employment for people severely impacted by disability in Utah. The funding will cover training and consulting work over the next three years.

Principal investigator Tricia Jones-Parkin has provided training and technical assistance on customized employment since 2020. Over that time, customized employment job placements in Utah rose from five in 2020 to 14 in 2021 and 12 in 2022.

In a customized employment scenario, a service provider approaches an employer to create a job that meets the needs of both the business and the employee with severe disabilities. Customized employment allows employees to work in the community, rather than in a sheltered workshop setting.

In addition to administering the grant, Jones-Parkin offers training statewide through the Institute for Disability’s Center for Employment and Inclusion in Salt Lake City. Over the course of the grant, Jones-Parkin said she and CEI Project Coordinator Kelie Hess will work to build leadership skills among customized employment providers.

Another aspect of the grant will include work with the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. The researchers are working with transition-age youth who experience Deaf-blindness, as well as with the educators to design more individualized work experiences.

They are also adding an element to the training that she hopes will have a big impact: hands-on work in placing people with disabilities in jobs.

“Because we partnered directly with vocational rehabilitation, I have set up the curriculum so that the people taking the course learn the content, and then they work directly with a job seeker,” Jones-Parkin said. “I'm mentoring them through the process, and then giving them feedback on their work.”

Jones-Parkin said the researchers are seeing an increase in customized employment outcomes in Utah.

A large part of the work involves a process called discovery.

“It’s a different way about figuring out employment for somebody,” Jones-Parkin said. “We go and we spend time with them in their home, or wherever they're the most comfortable. We try to understand what kinds of things they might be initiating on their own.”

People with significant-impact disability may not have household chores they’re doing, Jones-Parkin said, or the chores they’re initiating they may not be completing.

“But even pulling laundry out of the dryer, lifting up the basket, making toast, making oatmeal, those are tasks,” Jones-Parkin said. “It's a contribution.”

Discovery also involves evaluating the sorts of environments where it makes sense for people with disabilities to be spending their time, Jones-Parkin said.

Once discovery is complete, they can move on to working with employers to create a job that fills both employee and employer needs.

Jones-Parkin will also provide on-site technical assistance to meet job seekers and employment specialists wherever they are in Utah.

The Institute for Disability Research, Policy and Practice and the Center for Employment and Inclusion are both part of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at Utah State University.


JoLynne Lyon
Public Relations Specialist
Institute for Disability Research, Policy & Practice


Tricia Jones-Parkin
Program Manager
Institute for Disability Research, Policy & Practice


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