Traditionally, determining employer needs and then searching for a person with a disability to fill the job was common practice. Today, using a customized employment (CE) framework, an individual’s talents and desires are considered first. Then suitable employment is negotiated that matches the person's skills, contributions, and interests. This customized approach focuses on assisting an individual with a disability in finding a job, which also applies to starting a business. In other words, the person's talents, desires, and interests are considered first, and the business ideas follow. The process for determining the person's talents, desires, and interests is called "Discovery”.

What is Discovery?

Typically, Discovery begins in the home with family members or others who reside there, and they are engaged in conversations with the individual. In these conversations, people are encouraged to talk about their observations of the individual’s interests, talents, and needed support strategies. In addition to conversations, a quick look around the individual's household can provide clues to hobbies, interests, and chores that can be further explored in the community. A walk around the neighborhood can also provide information on local commerce, connections with neighbors, and the potential for leveraging social capital into employment connections.

An essential next step is to engage in community activities and sometimes work experiences that match the individual’s interests. Several hours spent at a few activities, or in particular work environments, can give credibility to stated or observed interests. These experiences can provide new information regarding how the person learns, what supports may be needed in particular environments, and whether the interest has vocational potential. Essentially, the Discovery process seeks to get to know the individual to reveal personal themes that can be used to develop goals for employment. Questions that should be asked and answered include but are not limited to the following:

  1. When is this person at his or her best?
  2. What support strategies are needed in particular situations?
  3. How does the individual learn best?
  4. Who knows the individual well?
  5. What circumstances may make the individual anxious or frightened?
  6. When is the person “in flow” (i.e. at peak performance or most comfortable)?

What Role Does Vocational Evaluation Play In Discovery?

Discovery is vocational evaluation by another means. Traditional vocational assessments compare the individual to established “norms.” Comparisons are what CE aims to eliminate, because when people with disabilities are compared to others without disabilities, they are often scored as "less-able or less-worthy" of employment. Further, testing repeatedly results in a prescription of more training before the person is ready to work. Data collected over the past decades indicates that many people with significant disabilities will remain in “readiness” forever unless employment development commences CE assumes all people are ready to work, and Discovery shifts the focus from assessment to assistance.

Again, because there are no limits to creativity in the marketplace, interest inventories and other paper and pencil approaches are too limiting. Exploration in the local community and matching the individual to environments where new skills can be acquired and old ones can be sharpened is a more effective approach. Time and money are better spent assisting individuals in refining their business plans and operations, making certain that they are meeting customer needs, and are adapting to changing markets.

Is Discovery Useful For Planning Employment

Knowing one’s strengths, interests, skills, and workplace contributions is important for all people wanting business success. But a Discovery process is probably not needed for individuals with strong work and educational histories who have ample supports, or who know their career path. In these cases, a thorough vocational evaluation is likely more helpful. Discovery makes sense for almost anyone with a significant disability and complex support needs. The goal of Discovery is to develop employment by answering some basic questions, including: Who is this person; where are they likely to be the most transparent; what are the ideal conditions of employment? Discovery fits a proactive economic development model. This suggests, that armed with information about a particular individual and opportunities that match market needs, a person can be revealed or created.

Discovery is an individualized approach. Most major disability legislation, including the Rehabilitation Act, the Developmental Disabilities and the Mental Health Acts, the Workforce Investment Act, etc., all reiterate that services should be individualized. Employment, therefore, should be individualized.


The Discovery process is essentially the assessment phase that precedes determining an individual's career path. Discovery must begin with the belief that all people with disabilities can work and that they have multiple talents and interests. The process is both open and formal; it is time-limited; and it is not concerned with predicting the future. Rather, it is focused on employment that matches who the individual is now. In a sense, Discovery creates urgency for engaging in meaningful work.




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