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Instructor Jeffrey Tamburo wears a long sleeve light blue button up shirt with a necktie and blue sweater vest and stands in front of a podium while lecturing seated participants

Career Successes Inspire at YTI

Shari Stallone bubbles over with stories about people with disabilities who have found better jobs, in part thanks to a training program offered by the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability in the Cornell ILR School. This story is one of many:

A young man with a disability worked in a restaurant. The job was not a good fit, and he aspired to a career with computers. The New York State Education Department’s ACCES-VR system paid his tuition so he could earn an associate degree with a specialty in computer science and a bachelor’s degree. He is now looking for a job in the computer field.

Stallone works as senior program coordinator at the Otsego County branch of Rehabilitation Support Services, one of many agencies that receives funding from ACCES-VR. ACCES-VR, which stands for Adult Career and Continuing Educational Services - Vocational Rehabilitation, receives funding from the federal government to assist people with significant disabilities in gaining high-quality employment. (All states have a state vocational rehabilitation program like ACCES-VR.)

Stallone, who has worked in the disability field for nearly four decades, supervises people who work as supported employment specialists. These specialists assist people with disabilities with gaining high-quality employment. They also help businesses with hiring and retaining people with disabilities. 

Another of Stallone’s stories is about a teen who wants a career with large animals. She recently graduated from high school with a 3.85 grade point average. A specialist has assisted her with exploring college options and with the application and financial aid process. She has been accepted by a local community college into the biology major, which will keep her options open for a variety of careers. The teen has also received support around housing and disability accommodations.

Supported employment specialists typically need job training to succeed, and that’s where the Yang-Tan Institute comes in. Specialists must understand how to assist people with many different kinds of disabilities. They need information about topics such as veterans’ issues and government disability benefits. 

Since 2013, this training has been provided across New York state by the Yang-Tan Institute under a project called New York State Consortium for Advancing and Supporting Employment (NYS CASE). Paid for through a grant to the institute from ACCES-VR, the training is now required for employees in New York state’s vocational rehabilitation service system and its network of independent contractors—approximately 4,000 people. This includes the supported employment specialists who Stallone supervises. She said, “All my staff are involved in doing the training. We integrate all the material into the services that we do whenever possible. I find it very, very helpful.” 

CASE offers four training tiers. Stallone said “The tiers fit based on where somebody is in their career within supported employment.”

Having reached the tenth anniversary of NYS CASE, the institute is looking back on several trends and successes – and it is looking ahead to reaching even more specialists in 2024 through eCornell. One success is the expansion of class offerings and participants: In the first year, the institute offered 50 trainings to just over 1,000 participants. The institute now delivers over 80 trainings per year and reaches over 5,000 participants per year.

To support the project initially, the institute’s web developers worked side-by-side with CASE administrators to build a custom website. Thanks to the custom site, the institute could quickly add state-requested features, such as a dashboard showing how many people in each county had begun or completed each training tier. The site was also customized to include a research study (see Effects of Framing Professional Development as a Career Growth Opportunity on Course Completion, published in 2022 by René F. Kizilcec, Jennifer A. Mimno and Andrew J. Karhan). 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, NYS CASE offered some training via live webinar to eliminate travel time. As the pandemic shutdowns began in 2020, the institute switched to offering all training via live webinar. Practical experience based on these webinars showed that participants could succeed with training that is asynchronous, meaning learners can view instructional materials at times they choose. It also opened possibilities for CASE trainers to reach more participants, and the institute is now converting the training to the asynchronous eCornell training platform. Using eCornell, the institute will offer training to supported employment specialists in other states.

Senior Extension Associate Gina Oswald, who is the CASE principal investigator, said she looks forward to participants being able to “more fully engage in professional development when it works for them.” The new training will also be certified by the joint Association of Community Rehabilitation Educators and Association of People Supporting Employment First (ACRE/APSE), which is a national certification body. 

CASE instructors are proud of the thousands of participants who have completed at least one tier of the coursework. As Oswald explains it, “Our instructors understand the importance of the work their participants do every day to enhance the lives of New Yorkers with disabilities and are honored to support their professional knowledge and skills development.”

Providing practical information to supported employment specialists, vocational rehabilitation counselors, policymakers and others who assist people with disabilities is a core focus for the Yang-Tan Institute, which is located in the ILR School at Cornell. The Yang-Tan Institute conducts a combination of research and outreach. With a mission of advancing the inclusion and full participation of people with disabilities in the workplace and community, the institute’s research, training and technical resources expand knowledge about disability inclusion, leading to positive change. The institute currently leads over a dozen active projects. They include the Northeast ADA Center, Y-ReCONNECTS (Youth Reentering the Community through Opportunity, Networking, Navigation, Education, Collaboration and Transition Supports) and the Autism Transition to Adult Initiative.

Photo: Instructor Jeffrey Tamburo leads a CASE seminar. Photo by Peter Quinn.