Enriching Discovery while staying focused on the concept

The following is a contributed Guest Blog by Michael Callahan, TASH Board Member and Chair of the TASH Employment Committee

Discovery has emerged as an effective, qualitative strategy to use when comparative vocational assessments exclude job seekers from funding and services or provide negative information that is of little use in employment services.  The Discovery approach focuses on the lives of job seekers as a lens through which conditions for success, interests towards certain aspects of the job market and potential contributions to be offered to employers can be determined.  These three factors provide the basis for a customized plan for employment for job seekers with significant complexities, including disabilities.  Facilitators of Discovery embrace an anthropological view of support in that they spend time with job seekers prior to employment and use the tools of qualitative researchers and social scientists – interview/conversation, observation, participation, review of records – to uncover skills that are embedded in the activities of daily life but that are often overlooked as competencies.  These skills, as well as other indicators of conditions for success and interests, are then translated into language that is consistent with workplaces in the community.  As an example, if we discover that a job seeker delivers baked goods to neighbors during holiday time, he/she could deliver materials within a distribution center or other large business.

The benefits of an optimistic, common sense approach such as Discovery are significant, especially for people who are not at their best in a testing and comparative situation.  If facilitators are willing to be bold in their translations, there will be sufficient and useful information to guide a customized relationship when negotiating with potential employers.  However, there are challenges.  It would be fair to say that some, possibly many, individuals with significant disabilities lead lives that are largely devoid of the kinds of rich activities that are beneficial when translating skills of life into employment contributions.  In these instances, facilitators often feel that it is necessary to provide assistance to develop activities such as hobbies, community participation and organizational membership.  In turn, the delivery of this kind of service tends to lengthen and complicate Discovery.  It is therefore important to distinguish the interactions that are discretely about Discovery and those that are about the services necessary to assist individuals to have a meaningful and participatory life.

This distinction is particularly important as systems become willing to fund discovery and as services seek to understand the time commitment and strategies necessary to facilitate the process.  There has been a presumption among those who are concerned that Discovery is a time-consuming and virtually unending set of interactions.  And while is true that it would be possible to spend months, even years, getting to fully know an individual with a complex life, it is simply not necessary to do so.  Facilitators should see to develop; sufficient information during Discovery to guide planning rather than to fully “know” individuals.  A reasonable timeframe for Discovery activities is approximately 20 – 25 hours over a period of 3 to five weeks.  This time investment compares well with traditional, comparative evaluation procedures.  However, if it becomes necessary to add richness and activity into a person’s life to provide the facilitator with a better lens through which to see skills to translate, care must be taken to not include that service as a part of Discovery.

Perhaps the easiest distinction is whether a newly added interaction with an individual in Discovery is on-going or episodic.  Generally speaking, episodic interactions, “one-off” activities, can always be seen as an aspect of Discovery and should be captured as such in data and fundable activities.  However, if it becomes necessary to assist an individual to begin an ongoing activity such as attending art classes or joining a local club or starting a hobby, the supports necessary for their development and maintenance should not be identified as discovery activities and should be funded by other resources.  A facilitator would then use the activity as a richer lens for discovery than was previously available.  Care should be taken in assuming that additional services will routinely need to be initiated during Discovery.  Facilitators should first seek to exhaust all the opportunities that a person’s life offers for the identification of conditions for success, interests and potential contributions before seeking the additional resources and time that will be necessary to institute new activities.  If new activities are felt to be necessary, it is important not to add the additional support time and expense to the activity of Discovery.  After all, those activities will continue to enrich the lives of the individuals long after Discovery has concluded.