Competitive Integrated Employment: Working With a Disability

Woman with Down syndrome restocking fruits in grocery store.Persons living with a disability have the right to engage in full-time, part-time work, or self-employment.

In doing so, they should be able to be paid minimum wage and be part of an environment that has both disabled and non-disabled persons working together, with opportunities for advancement for all employees. This concept is referred to as competitive integrated employment (CIE).

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Many state offices supporting people with disabilities offer CIE counseling programs. These programs assist disabled individuals with placement in employment opportunities that allow them to be paid a competitive rate and interact with co-workers and local communities. They often also assist employers with evaluating who may be a good fit for particular jobs.

If you are interested in working and earning a wage, reaching out to your local state office to inquire about CIE is an excellent first step. Many states offer disabled individuals the opportunity to meet with a placement provider or counselor to determine their strongest skill sets and help tailor a plan to find employment. This may include vocational training and ongoing support to help individuals stay employed.

What Are the Key Elements of CIE?

CIE refers to part-time or full-time work for which a person is compensated as follows:

  • At a rate that meets state or local minimum wage laws and is equal to the rate paid by an employer for the same or similar work performed by other employees who do not have disabilities and who have a similar skill set.

  • Where a person is self-employed, the goal is to yield an income comparable to the income received by other individuals who do not have disabilities, are also self-employed in a similar job, and have a similar skill set.

  • The disabled individual has the opportunity to receive the same benefits as other employees.

  • The disabled individual can engage in the same level of interaction and integration with the community and other employees to the same extent as similarly situated employees at that job who are not disabled.

What About My SSI Benefits?

Many people are concerned that they could lose their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits by working. The Social Security Administration (SSA) actively promotes work incentive programs, which allow you to keep some, or all, of your SSI payments and Medicaid coverage while working.

The SSA encourages participation in these programs, as they not only offer people with disabilities an opportunity to achieve independence, but also help develop a diverse and inclusive workforce.

One example of such a program is called “Ticket to Work.” This program connects individuals with no-cost employment services to help them determine if working is right for them, engage in work-related training, find a job, and maintain that job. Services provided can include career counseling, vocational training, and job placement.

For many disabled persons struggling to make ends meet on their small SSI monthly stipend, a program like this can help them gain financial independence.

The Future of CIE

Many agencies involved in the CIE process recognize that CIE, as it currently exists, needs to be a cohesive system and are working toward creating this. The CIE system presently involves multiple levels of government and local agencies. The funding for each level often comes from different sources.

In addition, an individual eligible for multiple CIE support or work incentive programs may have to deal with a federal agency for one program and a state agency for another. Coordinating these services has become an important goal of the U.S. Departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration, and other agencies.

CIE is a complex topic that goes far beyond the scope of this article. Speaking with a special needs planner in your area may open doors for you or a loved one you did not know existed and help you achieve financial independence. Why not take steps to learn more about how this may be possible?


Last Modified: 11/23/2022
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