Tennessee Celebrates Expansion of Disability Employment Opportunities

“Expect Employment” report highlights ten years of “Purpose, Progress and Partnership” made to increase access to community employment for Tennesseans with disabilities
Wednesday, December 20, 2023 | 03:30pm

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn.— Tennessee is continuing to narrow the employment gap and create opportunities for people with disabilities across the state.  That’s just one of many highlights in the tenth annual “Expect Employment” report from the Employment First Task Force.

The report was presented to Gov. Bill Lee and other state leaders today in Clarksville at the Common Ground Café.  The Café is a partnership between the City of Clarksville, Montgomery County, and Progressive Directions Inc.  It provides time-limited internship opportunities so that interns can develop job skills and increase their independence.  Many former interns now work at businesses across Montgomery County.

“The Employment First Task Force supports the state’s overall workforce development goals and ensures we have skilled employees to meet the needs of every business,” said Gov. Lee. “Additionally, this public-private partnership is creating greater opportunity for people with disabilities to find careers they love.”

This year’s report looks back on ten years of purpose, progress, and partnership by the Employment First Task Force.  Some highlights include:

  • Reducing the employment gap between people with and without disabilities by 5 percent, which was a goal set by the task force in 2018
  • Starting new programs to increase employment for people with disabilities, including the Employment and Community First CHOICES Program, the Individual Placement and Support model for people with a behavioral health diagnosis, and the MAPs Program
  • Increasing transition resources for high school students with disabilities and their teachers by offering Pre-Employment Transition Services, launching the Transition Tennessee portal, and providing options for alternative diplomas
  • Passage of State as a Model Employer (SAME) Legislation, which seeks to make Tennessee State Government a model employer of people with disabilities
  • Creation of the Tennessee Believes Program, which will increase access to inclusive higher education opportunities at colleges and universities across the state

“I’m proud to say that we’ve been able to drastically change the employment landscape in Tennessee for people with disabilities over the last decade,” said DIDD Commissioner Brad Turner.  “We are not only better preparing students and adults for employment, but we are also better engaging employers about how inclusion enhances workplace culture and productivity.”

The Employment First Task Force is charged with eliminating barriers, streamlining services and increasing integrated and competitive employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness, substance abuse disorders and other disabilities.

The task force, which is co-chaired by DIDD and the Department of Human Services, meets quarterly.  Representatives from the Departments of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Labor and Workforce Development, Education, Economic and Community Development, and Health as well as the Division of TennCare, the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and several disability advocacy groups are also members of the task force.

Read the full report at:



About the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) is the state agency responsible for oversight of services and support to Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Every day, the department strives to support approximately 12,000 people to live rewarding and fulfilling lives through Medicaid waiver Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), the MAPs Program, and the Family Support Program. DIDD also provides services to infants and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays through the Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS), and children under the age of 18 with disabilities or complex medical needs through the Katie Beckett Program. The department supports all Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities to live the lives they envision for themselves by ensuring people are free to exercise rights, engage with their broader communities and experience optimal health. DIDD is the first state service delivery system in the nation to receive Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation from the Council on Quality and Leadership.  It has also been recognized as a national leader in its efforts to increase competitive, community-based employment outcomes for people with disabilities and its commitment to enhancing independence through Enabling Technology.