Supported employment has been utilised successfully in the United Kingdom and Europe for a number of decades now. Thousands of disabled people have been able to transition into full or part time employment thanks to supported employment initiatives.
Of course as with any government policy initiative, there will be a lot of jargon and complex terms used to describe what are actually simple concepts! One of those pieces of jargon is the term “natural support”.
Your first thought might be “is a natural support some kind of shoe insert?”. Well, not quite!
In technical terms, a natural supports refers to the resources inherent in community environments that can be used for habilitative and supportive purposes.
That sounds horribly complex, so let’s break it down for us mere mortals to understand!
A support is a way to help people with disabilities become more independent and gain control over their own lives.
Supported employment consists of a number of techniques to help people with disabilities enter the labour market. One of those mechanisms is the support provided by coworkers, friends, family, mentors and volunteers.
Depending on the extent of their disability and complexity of the job, a person might only need support when entering the workplace or they may require ongoing support. People with severe disabilities are encouraged to take full advantage of all the support resources available to them.
Within the 7 phase cycle there are 2 main states, natural or assisted
When natural supports arn’t enough job a mentor or coach oversees the work performed by the employee who has a disability. The mentor can help the disabled person understand the tasks they are required to perform, address any difficulties and answer any questions they may have.
Where possible supported employees should be offered the same training opportunities afforded to all members of staff. Natural supports are found in the way that a business integrates and retains any new staff member.
When a new person joins the workplace, they integrate with other staff and learn the requirements of their position. The natural supports include information they receive, on the job training given to the new staff member and the other forms of assistance available for employees.
Natural supports can be informal (assistance from co-workers and peers on the job) or formal (assistance from supervisors and company programs). Natural supports also attempt to enhance links between the new employee and social supports within the workplace.
One of the problems with the way that disabled people have been integrated into the workplace in the past is that they sometimes missed out on natural supports. In some cases the natural supports available in a particular workplace are as strong as other forms of support given to people with disabilities.
By harnessing the natural supports, a person with a disability is treated as a normal and typical staff member within the workplace. The natural supports that are offered to any new entrant into the workplace are also given to the disabled person, ensuring they are well-prepared to excel in their role.
A job coach may also have a minimal input into natural supports for example informing the disabled person of the natural support available to them within the workplace or offering disability awareness training.
Natural supports are designed to foster independence and integration on the job.
Examples of Natural Support
Here are some quick examples of the forms of natural support available in most workplaces.
• Training supports: assistance from coworkers, mentors, management, supervisors
• Social skills supports: workplace buddy schemes, human resources staff, social rituals in the workplace
• Health supports: access to employee assistance programs, wellness programs
• Community supports in the workplace — clubs/social groups, professional groups, faith-based groups
• Job retention supports: performance reviews, professional development, skill building and workshops
By understanding all of the various forms of support available to them, a person with disabilities is more likely to enjoy the independence, freedom and dignity that having a job can grant!