Our Top Takeaways From the 2021 APSE Missouri Employment Summit

The SETWorks team shares their favorite insights from this year's conference in Columbia, MO.

The SETWorks team at the 2021 MO APSE Conference
SETWorks team members Kody, Mat and Preston, with MO APSE President Chaz Nickolaus

As with most things in 2021, the Missouri Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) Summit looked a little different this year. Masks were required, seating was spread out to maintain social distance, and attendance was down. 


One thing that stayed the same from previous years is that APSE put on a great conference!  This year’s theme was “Navigating a New and Changing Virtual World”. Subject matter experts from around the state of Missouri shared strategies and best practices for supported employment in this unprecedented time. 


We heard lots of new ideas for leveraging technology and improving employment services, both virtually and in-person. We also got a chance to reconnect with old friends and meet some new ones. 


If you weren’t able to attend, we’ve put together a recap of our biggest takeaways and the steps you can take to put them into action. 

1. Incorporate more technology into your services

Whether we’re ordering groceries online or looking up driving directions, there’s no denying that technology has made our lives easier and more convenient. But for people with disabilities, technology isn’t a luxury — it’s often a vital necessity to experience things that the rest of us take for granted. 


Director of Missouri Assistive Technology David Baker, along with Rhian Beldon, Employment Consultant at Learning Opportunities/Quality Works, Inc. (LOQW), gave a powerful presentation about the importance of technology in employment support. 


In it, David highlighted the assistive technology tools Missouri Assistive Technology provides — some of which seem so simple, yet have a significant  impact. For example, there are a number of apps for iPhone and Android that can help individuals with disabilities in the workplace. 


The presenters also shared how people are assessing and creatively implementing technology. Whether high or low tech, incorporating technology into your services will be key to removing workplace barriers and increasing job success.

“For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.” 

– Mary Pat Radabaugh, Director of the IBM National Support Center for Persons with Disabilities

Hearing this quote in David and Rhian’s session got our team thinking about accessibility practices in product design. We were reminded of a Microsoft video on accessible design which said that unless you think about accessibility every step of the way while designing your product, then your product isn’t accessible. It isn’t something that can be merely tacked on, but rather must be included throughout the whole design process.

2. Hybrid options are the future

While it was great visiting with people face-to-face, attending the conference also made us realize that not everyone is ready for a full return to in-person. 


COVID cases are on the rise in Missouri, so understandably the attendance was lower than usual. And unlike previous years, there wasn’t as large of a mix of organizations and leadership levels. However, the content was great and we wished more people were in attendance to hear it. 


As we navigate what is hopefully the end of the pandemic, there absolutely needs to be hybrid options available for people who would prefer to attend virtually. This goes for conferences, workplaces, schools, and disability support services alike.  


Industry organizations and service providers will need to take this into consideration when planning for the future.

3. Medical marijuana presents new challenges

As more states move to legalize marijuana, either for medical or recreational use, the issue of marijuana at work is a complicated one. Employment protections and disability rights laws vary widely between states, and some employers are stricter than others when it comes to workplace drug policies. 


According to Erica Ziegler, the director of DHSS Missouri Medical Marijuana Patient Services, these changes put supported employment professionals in a unique position between the individual they support and the employer. Not only will they need to have a basic understanding of applicable laws in their  area, they’ll also have to be prepared to navigate tricky topics like disclosure and adherence to company policies if someone they  support uses medical marijuana. 


Bottom line: If these issues haven’t come up already in your practice, you can expect to hear about them soon.

Keep learning

This year’s APSE Employment Summit may have been smaller than usual, but there was no shortage of practical tips and information. Whether you were able to be there or not, we hope these takeaways will inspire you to be creative in your service delivery and continue learning about the changing environment of disability services. As always, don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for more industry news and updates!

Want to learn how SETWorks can empower your agency to navigate an increasingly digital world?
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