New York Makes Work Pay - Developing a path to employment for New Yorkers with disabilities

Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG) Brief
The Entrepreneurship Partners Dialogue Meeting
December 14, 2009

Beth Keeton, M.S. - Senior Consultant
Griffin-Hammis Associates, LLC

Mary Killeen, M.A. - Senior Research Associate
Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University

Gary Shaheen, M.P.A.- Managing Director for Program Development
Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University

OMH New York State Office of Mental HealthBurton Blatt Institute Syracuse UniversityCornell University ILR School K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Employment and Disability Institute

New York Makes Work Pay is a Comprehensive Employment System Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (#1QACMS030318) from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to the Office of Mental Health on behalf of New York State. It is a joint effort of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University and the Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell University with the collaborative support of the Employment Committee of the New York State Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council (MISCC) to develop pathways and remove obstacles to employment for New Yorkers with disabilities.

The Entrepreneurship Partners Dialogue Meeting


The Entrepreneurship Partners Dialogue Meeting, convened in Albany, New York on December 14, 2009, was designed to facilitate discussion among participants about challenges and barriers faced by people with disabilities who want to become self-employed. The session also included presentations about a number of promising practices that are being implemented across the country to increase entrepreneurship opportunities for people with disabilities.

These presentations served as a catalyst for participants to explore possibilities for future collaboration and capacity building across a number of programs and systems in both the business planning and development and the disability services fields. The Entrepreneurship Partners Dialogue Meeting was one of the many activities funded by New York State's Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG), New York Makes Work Pay (NYMWP). NYMWP is a statewide initiative intended to dramatically improve the rate of employment among people with disabilities. It is funded by the Center for Medicaid Services for calendar years 2009 and 2010.

The goals of NYMWP include removing barriers to employment and building a better economic future for people with disabilities. It aims to initiate and improve coordinated systems of supports and services that can be sustained across agencies. It is accomplishing these goals through improvements in employment policies and practices as well as through research, training, evaluation, and dissemination of best practices. NYMWP emphasizes the participation of people with disabilities, their families, advocates, employers, disability service providers, and other stakeholders. The Entrepreneurship Partners Dialogue Meeting is the first in an ongoing dialogue and action-learning process that will be conducted in selected regions across the state to engage diverse stakeholders in building awareness, exchanging ideas, identifying challenges, and solving entrepreneurship-related problems together.

This report summarizes the rationale for the meeting, and provides a summary of the content of each of the presentations, a summary of the participant discussion during the breakout sessions, and concludes with recommendations for future actions.

Importance and Rationale

12.8% of people with disabilities choose self-employment, compared to 7.8% of the general labor force.In the past decade, entrepreneurship has emerged as a vital alternative to wage employment in meeting the employment and career needs of people with disabilities. Historically, people with disabilities have tended to turn to self-employment in greater numbers than those without disabilities. According to the U.S. Census (1996), 12.8% of people with disabilities choose self-employment compared to 7.8% of the general labor force. Entrepreneurship has been shown to be a particularly good fit for many with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities. Having a business can help people overcome the accessibility, communication, and transportation barriers they might otherwise face in wage employment (Seekins & Arnold, 1999); it can offer flexible work hours for those who need them in order to address health issues (Clark & Kays, 1999); and it can allow individuals to retain their well-developed support networks rather than relocate to a region with more job opportunities (Kassel & Gibbs, 1997). Entrepreneurship can also be a source of empowerment for individuals who might otherwise be caught in a cycle of despair and learned helplessness. As business owners, they control their own economic futures with all the improvements to self-esteem and confidence derived from owning and operating their own businesses. It is important to note that entrepreneurship may be a particularly viable option for individuals with the most significant disabilities and complex support needs. Entrepreneurship, by its very nature, can allow a business to be developed specifically around an individual an outcome frequently difficult to achieve in community employment. In the current economic climate, with a scarcity of jobs, corporate downsizing, and diminishing job attachment, entrepreneurship has become an increasingly attractive option for many.

Across the country, various approaches have been developed to offer people with disabilities the training and support they need to start their own businesses. Start-Up USA and its three national technical assistance centers StartUP NY, StartUP Alaska, and StartUP Florida were supported by the technical assistance of Griffin-Hammis Associates and Virginia Commonwealth University's Rehabilitation Research Training Center on Workplace Supports (VCU-RRTC) and made possible through funds from the Office of Disability Employment Policy/Department of Labor. These centers have demonstrated the positive outcomes that can derive from using customized entrepreneurial techniques and influencing statewide systems change to support entrepreneurship.

The StartUP NY model focused on developing a consensus-driven, partnership-based approach to build the capacity of local economic, business, disability, and employment services in which stakeholders include entrepreneurship for people with disabilities as a priority within their structures. The project was conceived and initiated by the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University (SU), under the auspices of Onondaga County and in partnership with the SU Falcone Center on Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises and its business incubator, the South Side Innovation Center, the Onondaga Small Business Development Center (SBDC), CNYWorks One Stop Career Center, and other community stakeholders. Over three years, StartUP NY provided customized business training to over 160 people with disabilities and assisted over 40 of them to start and operate their own businesses. Furthermore, the program implemented other innovations like financial literacy courses, Individual Development Accounts for entrepreneurs and a new �Inclusive Entrepreneurship' class at SU that paired teams of student entrepreneurship consultants with Startup NY entrepreneurs to assist them in growing their businesses. The model is currently being replicated in New York City under the state's Medicaid Infrastructure Grant and will be used as a component of the state's strategy to transform sheltered work programs into more entrepreneurial models.

20 to 30% of participants with disabilities chose self-employment when given the choice.

Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (ACCES-VR), the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (CBVH), the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), the Entrepreneurship Assistance Programs (EAPs), and representatives from the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities and Office of Mental Health to begin a dialogue about improving self-employment outcomes for people with disabilities. The goals of the meeting were as follows:

However, VR self-employment closure rates were only 1.7% nationally and 0.6% in New York.

The meeting was particularly significant because it included, for the first time, the four state agencies with the ability to provide funding and/or technical assistance to entrepreneurs with disabilities ACCES-VR, CBVH, the SBDCs, and the EAPs. As mentioned above, 12.8% of people with disabilities are currently self-employed and more would choose to be so if given the opportunity. In a Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) study of seven demonstration projects, 20 to 30% of participants chose self-employment over wage employment when given the choice (Stoddard, Hanson, & Temkin, 1998). However, vocational rehabilition (VR) self-employment closure rates were only 1.7% nationally in 2007 (Revel, Smith, & Inge, 2009) and were only .6% in New York State in 2008 (RSA 911). The reason for such low rates may be understandable: VR counselors are neither trained in small business development (Frochlich & Linkowski, 2002), nor do they have the capacity to support individuals interested in entrepreneurship with a comprehensive and effective program (Wallis, Dowler, & Cordingly, 2001). Due to these circumstances, there have been calls for VR agencies to develop collaborative relationships with other agencies and organizations expert in providing entrepreneurship services (e.g., Ipsen, Arnold, & Colling, 2005; Wallis, Dowler, & Cordingly, 2001).

In New York State, the two agencies with the greatest reach in providing small business development services are the SBDCs and the EAPs. The New York SBDC network delivers business counseling and training to New Yorkers who want to either start a business or improve the performance of an existing one. The network is administratively located in the State University of New York and includes 24 regional centers, each affiliated with a university, college, or community college. Since its inception in 1984, it has helped entrepreneurs start more than 56,608 businesses, conducted more than 11,830 training events, served more than 325,908 workshop attendees, and counseled more than 245,923 clients.

New York State's EAP, established in 1987 and administratively located within Empire State Development, also has a statewide network of 24 regional centers. They offer services ranging from classroom instruction and one-on-one counseling to peer support groups and business mentoring, targeting minorities, women, dislocated workers, and individuals with disabilities. The network includes centers located in low-income and minority communities, as well as staff that are bi- and multi-lingual. Two thirds of the centers operate or are formally affiliated with a micro-loan fund.

Just as VR counselors may lack knowledge in small business development, SBDC and EAP counselors may be unfamiliar with some aspects of disability experience (Ipsen, Arnold, & Colling, 2005), including needs for alternative format materials, assistive technology, physical access, and connections to disability-related services and programs (including VR or VA programs). Both VR providers and small business development providers are charged with providing self-employment services to people with disabilities. However, they have vastly different, but equally important, areas of expertise. If the knowledge and experience from both components were brought together, guided by the best practices that have been developed and tested in entrepreneurship projects over the last decade, outcomes for self-employment could be greatly improved.� 

The Entrepreneurship Partners Dialogue was designed to inform participants about the promising practices that are being implemented in the most effective entrepreneurship programs across the country, including:

These presentations then served as a catalyst to explore possibilities for future collaboration and capacity building.

A Summary of the Day's Activities

The Event's Hosts, Funding, and Expertise

The Burton Blatt Institute: Centers of Innovation on Disability

The Burton Blatt Institute: Centers of Innovation on Disability (BBI) hosted the event. BBI was established at Syracuse University to advance the civic, economic, and social participation of people with disabilities. Funding for the gathering was provided by the New York Makes Work Pay (NYMWP) Medicaid Infrastructure Grant, which is managed by the New York State Office of Mental Health on behalf of the Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council. NYMWP is a statewide initiative led by BBI and the Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute. It is intended to dramatically improve the rate of employment among people with disabilities. One of its nine major goals targets employment barriers that impact policy and practice domains at many levels. This meeting was designed to create a platform for dialogue and problem-solving that cuts across those domains and set the stage for regional Entrepreneurship Dialogues and ‘Entrepreneurship Bootcamps' for ACCES-VR, SBDC, EAP, and CBVH counselors in 2010.

Griffin-Hammis Associates, LLC

Information provided during the session drew heavily from the work and research of Griffin-Hammis Associates, LLC (GHA), founded in 2000 by Cary Griffin and David Hammis. Their pioneering work with self-employment for entrepreneurs with disabilities in the early 1990s led to the first CARF-accredited; cross-disability non-facility-based Community Rehabilitation Program offering self-employment in Montana, with vendorization from both Vocational Rehabilitation and the state Workforce programs. Through a series of RSA, Labor, SAMHSA and other funded projects, the principal staff helped implement and test self-employment methodologies across disability systems in multiple states, eventually authoring the book, Making Self-Employment Work for People with Disabilities (2003) that draws heavily on successful implementation strategies verified by external evaluations by Virginia Commonwealth University, Berkeley Planning Associates, and the U.S. Dept. of Labor.
At present, GHA maintains an extensive national self-employment network, providing a foundation for analysis of exemplary and emerging practices. Recent projects related to blended funding and building self-employment capacity in numerous states reveal policy and sustainability options worth replication. GHA's partnership role in the National Training and TA Center for Self-Employment and Disability, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor (Start-Up-USA), as well as being faculty to the national Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities at Syracuse University, technical experts for the Work Incentives TA project for Native Americans, and trainers for the Homeless Veterans with Disabilities project, all contribute to the cross-disability self-employment experience needed to develop recommendations for New York.

Welcome and Introductions
Gary Shaheen

As Managing Director for Program Development at BBI, Mr. Shaheen spearheaded StartUP NY in Onondaga County. A second demon�­stration project, StartUP NY 2, is being devel�­oped in Manhattan. Mr. Shaheen is Co-Principal Investigator of NYMWP and a nationally recognized expert in the fields of mental health rehabilitation, homelessness, entrepre�­neurship, social enterprise development, and systems change. For over 30 years in both the public and private sectors he has shaped state and federal policy and programs that help people with mental illnesses, co-occurring substance abuse disorders, and those who are homeless fully integrate into their communities.

Mr. Shaheen welcomed the 80-plus participants attending the meeting and commented on the historic nature of the gathering perhaps it represents the first time that so many representatives from state agencies, universities, and other interested organizations had gathered to discuss the future of entrepreneurship for people with disabilities. He explained that during the first year of NYMWP, one of the main objectives was to increase dialogue across agencies, develop training programs, and create awareness of the promising practices that have been developed to support people with disabilities in becoming entrepreneurs. Today's dialogue, he stated, is not an end point, but is actually the beginning. Mr. Shaheen went on to lay out the day's agenda and to introduce the presenters.

Self-Employment for Entrepreneurs with Disabilities: A National Perspective
Beth Keeton

Beth Keeton is Senior Consultant with GHA. For the past fifteen years, Beth has honed her expertise in customized and self-employment services. During her previous tenure with the University of South Florida, Beth was at the front of numerous self-employment projects, including the Micro- Enterprise Training and Technical Assistance Project (METTA) and Start-Up Florida. She has served as the point person on the development and coordination of the Certified Business and Technical Assistance Consultant (CBTAC) certification program, funded by Florida's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). Additionally, Beth works with GHA on several other national self-employment projects, including: the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, the Iowa Medicaid Infrastructure Grant, the Minnesota Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, as well as the StartUP NY replication in New York City, all of which are geared towards increasing the quantity and quality of self-employment outcomes.

Beth Keeton provided a snapshot of the "state of the states" with regard to self-employment for entrepreneurs with disabilities. When considered from policy, programmatic, and economic perspectives, both opportunities and challenges exist to establishing self-employment as a viable outcome for any entrepreneur with a disability.

Policy supporting self-employment exists both at the national level as well as within each state. The Rehabilitation Services Act of 1973, as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which provides policy for all state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies specifically includes "… self-employment, telecommuting, or business ownership…" [Section 7 (11) (c)] in defining an employment outcome, as well as mandates the provision of "technical assistance and other consultation… to develop business plans, and otherwise provide resources… to eligible individuals who are pursuing self-employment…" [Section 103 (a) (13)].

Additionally, Social Security Administration (SSA) policy has established specific work incentives for beneficiaries of either the SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and/or the SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) programs who run their own businesses. Two of these incentives, PASS (Plan for Achieving Self-Support) and PESS (Property Essential to Self-Support) have particularly powerful and financially beneficial implications for those who are self-employed. While most state Medicaid waiver policies do not mention self-employment as a targeted outcome for supported employment services, rarely are there provisions that can be interpreted to specifically exclude it. Similarly, most community business resources, such as SBDCs, neither specifically require nor exclude individuals with disabilities from receiving services.
Alternate Process: Resources to support self-employment for people with disabilities include: Rehabilitation Services Act of 1973, Social Security PASS & PESS incentives, Medicaid waiver programs, SBDCs, StartUP NY, Individual Development Accounts, Micro-loans and grantsOver the past decade, there has been a significant increase in resources available to individuals with disabilities interested in starting their own businesses and the people and/or agencies supporting them to do so. Start-Up USA ( is a national technical assistance center funded by ODEP and implemented through a collaboration between GHA and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Fact sheets, success stories, webinars, information on state programs/resources, and individualized technical assistance are available through the Start-Up USA program. The SSA Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) project now offers a supplemental training on self-employment to its Community Work Incentives Coordinators throughout the country. Additionally, The Association for Certified Rehabilitation Educators (ACRE) offers an Employment Services certification that includes self-employment as an outcome. States such as Minnesota, Iowa, and Rhode Island (to name just a few) are pursuing Employment First initiatives that target the critical need for increasing customized employment outcomes, including self-employment, for residents with disabilities. These examples represent only a few of the resources and training opportunities currently available but do give an indication of the increasing effort to support and build the knowledge base around self-employment for individuals with disabilities throughout the country.

Self-employment has proven to be one of the best routes to economic self-sufficiency and financial freedom. Because businesses are grown specifically around individual capacities, interests, and skill sets, self-employment has proven to be a viable option regardless of any specific disability label. The SSA work incentives (PASS and PESS) offer unique funding and asset accumulation opportunities to beneficiaries of SSI and SSDI who are self-employed. Additionally, state VR agencies are able to provide varying amounts of funding to support the launch of a small business. Other economic development funds, such as Individual Development Accounts and/or micro-loans, may be available for low-income residents as well. Approaches that call for the blending and braiding of these varying resources and funding streams have been utilized with great success by progressive programs across the country.

In spite of all of these resources and opportunities, self-employment still remains a vastly underutilized option for many individuals with disabilities throughout the United States. Nationally, cases closed in self-employment represented just 2% of all state VR agency closures in 2007 (Revell, Smith, & Inge, 2009). The lack of clear policy from RSA regarding self-employment creates an avenue for tremendous opportunity, yet also has resulted in tremendous variation in state policies. Many states' policies, including New York's ACCES-VR, require VR customers to match funds in order to access start-up funding. For those with limited resources, this frequently represents an impossible hurdle. Collaboration between disability services agencies and community business resources is rare, leaving individuals with disabilities caught in a gap. Some of the unique considerations relevant to entrepreneurs with disabilities (e.g., the impact of income on SSA benefits, the development of the support team, etc.) may be beyond the scope of most existing community business resources, while the research and development of a business plan is frequently beyond the expertise of disability service agencies.

No one state has created the perfect blueprint for addressing all of the challenges, yet pockets of promising practices and excellence do exist throughout the country that can serve to inform the current efforts to develop an accessible self-employment process/system in New York. Essential elements of any successful initiative will likely include some of the following.

In an effort to increase self-employment outcomes for customers, the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation created the Certified Business and Technical Assistance (CBTAC) program. Florida DVR's progressive approach offers one example of promising practice and will be discussed in more detail here.

Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation's Certified Business and Technical Assistance Consultant (CBTAC) Program
David Guido

Dave Guido is the Bureau Chief of Administrative Services for the Florida Department of Education/Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, responsible for the organization's contracting, budgeting, information systems and personnel. Mr. Guido has been with Vocational Rehabilitation since September 2007. Prior to joining FLDOE/DVR Dave spent eight years with the University of South Florida's Division of Applied Research and Educational Support where he was the Principal Investigator and Project Director of multiple grant projects focused on providing training and technical assistance to families, schools, and community rehabilitation providers on effective practices in transition and employment for individuals with disabilities. Prior to his employment withUSF, Dave spent fourteen years supporting individuals with developmental disabilities in individualized community-based living and employment. He has played a key role in the development of innovative and individualized services and supports for individuals with disabilities.

Pam Hinterlong

Pam Hinterlong is the Program Administrator for the Florida Department of Education/Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, responsible for Supported Employment and Self-employment Services. Ms. Hinterlong has been with Vocational Rehabilitation since June 2004. Ms. Hinterlong represents FLDOE/DVR on the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council and chairs the Employment Task Force. Prior to joining FLDOE/DVR Ms. Hinterlong spent 10 years in non-profit management supporting individuals with disabilities in individualized community-based living and employment, both in Florida and Missouri.

In 2005, Florida's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (FL DVR) began exploring methods for increasing self-employment outcomes throughout the state. Data from studies done by FL DVR around that time indicated some interesting trends. First, the number of self-employment outcomes was low overall. (Statistics from indicate that the percentage of FL DVR cases closed in self-employment in 2008 was 1.2%). Additionally, the number of referrals for DVR services was increasing as a whole, with particular increases for individuals with significant disabilities. Given that self-employment has proven to be a particularly viable option for many individuals with the most significant disabilities, DVR began to explore why self-employment outcomes were so limited.

As they dug into their own policy and procedures, they learned that self-employment was being offered to a very limited number of customers. Customers with less significant disabilities and minimal support needs who indicated an interest in self-employment were potentially given a green light to pursue this employment outcome. Customers not fitting these criteria were generally screened out and encouraged (or required) to seek wage employment instead, even if they had indicated a preference for self-employment. In an effort to increase self-employment opportunities for all customers, FL DVR formed a self-employment committee and launched a full-scale initiative to completely overhaul the existing policies and procedures.

FL DVR policy was screening people Initial efforts focused primarily on revising and expanding existing self-employment policy. Beyond this, an in-depth self-employment handbook was developed to serve as a guide for DVR counselors and for its customers. Committee members both sought input and guidance from the national experts at GHA as well as drew from lessons learned from other self-employment projects in Florida to serve as the foundation for the policy and handbook development. The result is a comprehensive policy that emphasizes that the viability of self-employment for any VR customer must be all of the following:

Additionally, the policy is considered to be open-ended in that there are no minimum "skill" levels mandated, no funding ceilings established (though only a certain level of funding can be approved at the local level), no matching for DVR funds required, and no background or credit score exclusions applied. The goal became to create an avenue for screening interested customers "in" to the self-employment process rather than screening them "out" from the start.

FL DVR Counselors were not expert on entrepreneurship and needed the support of a Business Design Team and specific business development expertise.One of the major goals for the FL DVR self-employment initiative was to create a system whereby the DVR counselor did not have to be the expert. Rather, the expectation would be the counselors could guide customers to the necessary resources and assist with the development of a collaborative team that would support the customer to fully explore self-employment as an option. Members of the team (Business Design Team) can assist with the initial identification of business concepts and market research as well as serve as long-term supports for the entrepreneur. Customers who will not be able to manage their accounting as a result of their disability, for example, need to create a plan for how this support will be provided throughout the life of the business, and members of the team may fill this gap. Business team membership typically includes both formal and natural supports; the roles and responsibilities for members are detailed in the business plan. The inclusion of collaborative teams for customers seeking self-employment has been one of the most critical cornerstones for the DVR program.

Additionally, it was recognized that both VR customers and counselors needed access to specific expertise with regard to developing and researching business concepts and writing the business plans. Although community resources such as the SBDCs exist in Florida, research indicated that few DVR customers were successfully utilizing these resources. A program was created to fill this gap: the Certified Business and Technical Assistance Consultant (CBTAC) program. Through this program, providers and/or individuals could become certified vendors of self-employment services. (Qualifications for becoming a vendor were established by the Vendor Certification Unit and can be viewed at ). CBTACs are then responsible for supporting DVR customers through all critical stages of business exploration and development. When a customer indicates an interest in self-employment, it is no longer the responsibility of the DVR counselor to determine if this is a viable avenue or to independently guide the customer through the process. Instead, the DVR counselor can make a referral to the CBTAC, and the CBTAC is responsible for coordinating and guiding the process. Close and ongoing communication with the DVR counselor is paramount throughout. (The CBTAC certification process will be outlined in detail in the next section.)

Not surprisingly, the development of the policy and handbook and even the establishment of CBTACs throughout the state did not culminate in increased and seamless access to self-employment for all DVR customers. Gaps still exist, and the state continues to work on addressing these. One of the major gaps remains the need for increased awareness and education about self-employment. This is necessary for all key stakeholders, including: DVR counselors, customers, and provider agencies. Many still have limited to no knowledge about the potential viability of self-employment for individuals experiencing a wide range of disabilities, nor do they know much about the CBTAC program or the opportunities for support available through it. Additionally, many DVR counselors remain wary of self-employment and regard it as highly risky. Concerted effort is being made to educate them about the unique benefits and opportunities associated with business ownership and the increased rate of success as a result of a comprehensive and systematic business research and development process such as the CBTAC program. Ongoing training and technical assistance through the Center for Social Capital (CSC) is available to all stakeholders throughout the state at any point in the process. DVR counselors wanting feedback on a business plan before deciding to approve it, for example, can submit it to CSC staff for input and guidance.

The CBTAC program is still relatively new. Data is currently being collected on self-employment referrals and closures, and better evaluation of outcomes will be forthcoming over the next couple of years. However, initial data does show promising trends. Through the vendor certification program, 74 CBTACs are currently in place throughout the state. All areas of the state are served by at least one CBTAC, indicating statewide capacity. Increases have been documented in both self-employment referrals and outcomes. The Self-Employment Handbook has been updated and revised to reflect program changes. Finally, capacity-building efforts are continuing through the certification of additional CBTACs and ongoing training and technical assistance from the Center for Social Capital to CBTACs, DVR counselors, and VR customers.

The CBTAC Certification Process

In July 2007, FL DVR entered into a contract with the Center for Social Capital (CSC), the non-profit branch of GHA, to develop and implement a statewide certification program for vendors of customized self-employment. The CSC was uniquely suited to perform this role given the national expertise of the staff in self-employment, its history of work with self-employment initiatives within the state, and the location of its Southeastern Regional Office in Tampa, FL. Roles and responsibilities for the CSC in this initiative included:

First year efforts focused primarily on developing a statewide cadre of CBTACs. In order to meet this goal, five 3-day certification trainings were held at different locations throughout the state.

CBTAC Training and Technical Assistance Overview

Entities interested in becoming CBTACs must first meet the minimum qualification requirements established by FL DVR's Vendor Certification Unit. These qualifications include a mix of education and experience and can be viewed on the DVR website ( Applicants have included individuals or entities with either business and/or disability services backgrounds, and all are welcome by design. Ultimately background in both of these areas is required for certification. Applicants without background in business can meet this requirement by attending the CBTAC training; applicants without background in disability services have several options for meeting this requirement prior to certification.

Applicants meeting the minimum requirements can then register for the 3-day Certification Training course. This intensive 24-hour course is designed to cover all key aspects of business exploration and development, including:

The certification course is a mixture of didactic training and hands-on simulation activities. All participants work actively to research concepts, develop financials, and complete SSA benefits analysis during the 3-day session. At completion of the coursework, all participants are required to complete a comprehensive field assignment. Field assignments are not evaluated on a "pass/fail" basis. Rather, the CSC staff provides feedback on areas needing additional work or consideration, and participants can revise and resubmit. After successful completion of the course and field assignment, vendors are instated as CBTACs for a period of two years.

The certification course is designed to be comprehensive. However, it is recognized that completing the course alone may not lead to mastery of all skills and processes necessary to successfully support any potential entrepreneur through all aspects of business exploration and design. Therefore, ongoing technical assistance from the CSC is available to CBTACs at any point in time. (DVR counselors also have access to individualized technical assistance at any point in time.) Technical assistance is available in person, over the phone, or via web software. Additionally, CSC staff facilitates Regional Networking Meetings throughout the state on a quarterly basis. These meetings are open to both CBTACs and DVR counselors and have served as a critical component in the success of the program. Meetings give counselors and CBTACs the opportunity to network, identify common concerns, and outline plans for working together more effectively. Additionally, training is provided at each session based on requests submitted by participants.

Over the course of the first project year, 74 CBTACs were certified, and CBTACs are now in place to cover any area within the state. During the second project year, two additional certification trainings are planned. Additionally, project efforts will go to developing online resources, materials, and trainings. Networking meetings will continue statewide, and as a result of feedback received during the first year networking meetings, a series of trainings specifically for DVR counselors have been designed and implemented throughout the state. Concerted effort to spread the word that self-employment can be a viable option for any VR customer continues. Ongoing training and education processes continue to highlight the CBTAC program as one of the only, if not the only, VR self-employment program in the nation that can truly support a customer through any part of the process, from identification of business concept for someone with a complex disability, through detailed market research and resource planning, to finalization of business plan.

CBTAC Benchmark Rates

FL DVR designed a unique system for payment of CBTAC services. The payment structure is based on benchmarks corresponding to key components of the business exploration and development process. CBTACs can bill for services throughout the process, which supports financial feasibility for the providers without creating any inadvertent motivation to encourage a customer to complete a business plan if self-employment no longer seems the best option. With the benchmark payment system, the customer can be referred back to wage employment at any point in time, with this being viewed as a success of informed choice, not a failure of outcome. Another key component of the FL DVR benchmark payment system is the final payment point: "Implementation Hours." Once a business plan has been accepted and funded, the CBTAC can continue to support the customer through the launch of the business. The number of hours allocated to implementation support is the result of negotiation between the DVR counselor, the CBTAC, the customer, and/or the Business Design Team. This number is based upon the types of support needed as identified in the completed business plan.

Benchmark payments are listed in the chart below. Customers can be referred to CBTACs at any point in the process, so all benchmarks are not billed in every case. The total for all benchmarks (less implementation hours) is $7000, which was approximately the benchmark payment rate for Supported Employment referrals at the time the CBTAC rates were developed. (Supported Employment rates subsequently increased). Start-up funds and financial support for the businesses are calculated separately; payments to CBTACs are not included in the business start-up costs.

FL DVR CBTAC Benchmark Payment Rates

Initial Meeting


Business Concept Development


Market Research & SSA Benefits Analysis


Sales/Marketing & Business Financials


Business Plan Development


Completed Business Plan


Business Plan Implementation- per hour


Afternoon Breakout Sessions: Identifying Systems and Program Challenges

Establishing a policy and practice agenda to support economic and entrepreneurial development for New Yorkers with disabilities requires an in-depth exploration of the challenges and barriers, promising practices, and needed changes to support economic and small business development. To this end, in the afternoon breakout sessions, participants were asked to reconvene in groups of ten. They were given a set of questions to discuss, choosing two out of four questions in each session to report to the entire group on. Each group prioritized their responses and reported on the three responses per question that had gained the greatest consensus during the discussion. The questions for both breakout sessions are listed below, followed by a summary of the participants' reported responses.

Questions for Break-Out Session 1: Systems/Policy Issues

Questions for Break-Out Session 2: Programmatic Issues

Participant Responses
Discussion coalesced into eight major topic areas:

  1. program barriers,
  2. collaboration,
  3. training needs and access to technical assistance,
  4. funding,
  5. program innovations,
  6. moving forward,
  7. disseminating and sharing information, and
  8. who else should be involved in this effort.

A summary of the responses in each topic area follows.

1. Program Barriers

Most of the responses regarding program barriers focused on what was termed the "gate-keeping model that rules people out as opposed to ruling people in."

2. Collaboration

Numerous participants discussed the lack of collaboration among their agencies and the need for cross-agency "cooperation, communication, and support."

3. Training Needs and Access to Technical Assistance

Participants discussed the training that is needed in a number of areas.

4. Funding

With regard to funding entrepreneurship, participants discussed what has and has not been working well. Barriers included:

Supportive funding streams included:

5. Program Innovations

Participants considered a number of interesting program innovations.

6. Moving Forward

With regard to moving forward with a statewide entrepreneurship initiative, participants suggested various ideas for a central coordinating body.

7. Disseminating and Sharing Information

Participants also discussed strategies for dissemination, outreach, and sharing information.

8. Who Else Should Be Involved?

Participants suggested a number of organizations that should be involved in this effort going forward.

Other suggestions included:

Conclusion and Future Directions

Based on the overwhelmingly positive response and strong interest in developing more effective, efficient, and accessible avenues to entrepreneurship for New Yorkers with disabilities exhibited at this first Entrepreneurship Dialogue, plans are underway to roll out additional regional dialogues throughout the state in 2010. The purpose of these dialogues will be:

In summary, there is a groundswell of support in NYS for entrepreneurship as a viable career choice for people with disabilities. Effective NYS models like StartUP NY and like the Florida CBTAC project demonstrate that innovative methods for increasing entrepreneurship outcomes do exist.
The challenge for New York is fourfold:


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Partnering Organizations
New York State Office of Mental Health
John Allen, Special Assistant to the Commissioner
44 Holland Avenue, 8th Floor
Albany, New York 12229
Tel. 518.473.6579

Burton Blatt Institute (Syracuse University)
Gary Shaheen, Managing Director, Program Development
Syracuse University Burton Blatt Institute
900 S. Crouse Avenue
Crouse-Hinds Hall, Suite 300
Syracuse, New York 13244
Tel. 315.443.9818

K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Employment and Disability Institute (Cornell University)
Thomas P. Golden, Associate Director, Employment and Disability
ILR School-201 Dolgen Hall
Ithaca, New York 14853
Tel. 607.255.2731