People sitting around a table at the community conversation.

KentuckyWorks holds Community Conversation in Louisville

by Amanda Kelley Corbin

Self-advocates, families, and professionals gathered for a community conversation to discuss employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities on Monday, December 4th at Down Syndrome of Louisville. The event was facilitated by KentuckyWorks and had three co-sponsors—Down Syndrome of Louisville, the Kentucky Autism Training Center, and the Center for Accessible Living—the most co-sponsorship of any community conversation thus far.

At the event, Dr. Harold Kleinert, former director of the University of Kentucky Human Development Institute, outlined how, for Kentucky students with significant disabilities, post-school employment rates lag substantially behind those for students with more mild disabilities and for students without disabilities.

In Kentucky, post-school data is collected for all students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Students with moderate or severe intellectual disability, autism, or multiple disabilities are considered to have significant disabilities. One year after graduating, less than 20% of former students in each of those groups were employed.

Former students with functional mental disabilities 14.1%
Former students with multiple disabilities 13.8%
Former students with autism 18.7%
All other former students with disabilities 57.9%

Source Kentucky Post School Outcomes 2015

The employment gap has persisted in the state for many years and many people don’t realize how big it is. The goal of KentuckyWorks, a collaboration between nine Kentucky agencies, is to close that employment gap by envisioning and facilitating post-school employment opportunities for youth with significant disabilities, or, as outlined by Dr. Kleinert, “finding ways to enable youth with disabilities to share their gifts, talents, personalities and skills within the workplace.”

Community conversations are part of KentuckyWorks’ overall goal to increase post-school employment for students with the most significant disabilities by 20% over five years. The community conversation approach is adapted from the World Café Method for hosting a group dialogue. Dr. Kleinert said, “One of the most important things about community conversations is that ideas build off of each other and lead to new strategies.”

Attendees addressed the following question: What can we do as a community to increase meaningful employment opportunities for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities?

Through roundtable discussions participants shared their thoughts and then built upon others’ ideas. During the last 20-minute round of discussions, participants attempted to answer the question, “How might we work together in more effective ways to make these ideas happen here and now?”

At the end of the conversation, participants reflected on what they thought were the most promising ideas shared that evening. Themes included educating employers about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities, preparing for work at an early age by building the expectation in school and at home, and broader marketing to raise awareness about resources, among others.

“I am thinking we may have some excellent strategies that we can work to implement with our partner agencies,” Dr. Kleinert said.

Following the community conversation, Samara Heavrin, Director of STABLE Kentucky spoke about STABLE accounts—529A accounts that allow individuals to save and invest without losing benefits such as SSI and Medicaid. More information is available at

To view the final report of the community conversation, click here.

For resources and more information, visit