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About Us

AZ Employment First is a philosophy and movement supporting our mission of competitive integrated employment being the expectation for all Arizonans who have a disability. Employment First is not a program or agency and we do not provide a service to individuals. The AZ Employment First Initiative is working with stakeholder groups across the state to redefine and rethink how we work with and for individuals who have disabilities to increase successful employment outcomes. We believe everyone has a stake in making this possible. Working collaboratively to change necessary polices, services and funding structures, as well as our partners instilling the appropriate supports and services, when working with individuals, are a few ways we are achieving our mission.

Mission Statement

AZ Employment First seeks to ensure that competitive integrated employment is the preferred outcome and expectation for all working age Arizonans who have disabilities.

Guiding Principles  

  • The current low participation rate of people who have disabilities in the workforce is unacceptable. Access to “real jobs with real wages” is essential if people who have disabilities are to avoid lives of poverty, dependence, and isolation. 
  • All working age people who have disabilities can participate in jobs that provide for meaningful work, with pay at or above minimum wage, benefits, and opportunities for integration with other workers.
  • As with all other individuals, employees with disabilities require assistance and support to ensure success on the job and should have access to supports needed to succeed in the workplace.
  • All people, regardless of disability, have the right to pursue the full range of available employment opportunities and to earn a living wage in a job of their choosing, based on their talents, skills, and interests.


Employment First is a national initiative that promotes competitive employment in an integrated setting at minimum wage or higher, as this is the preferred outcome for people who have disabilities. Arizona is championing this initiative by implementing its common vision in this state. Arizona seeks to change and enhance expectations around employment to promote progressive change in the support infrastructure, which will enable people who have disabilities to pursue employment opportunities and achieve economic independence.

In October, 2013, stakeholders convened to facilitate an Employment First discussion.  During that meeting, a report was commissioned, which provided an overview of Employment First initiatives and highlighted lessons learned from existing Employment First states.  During the meeting, an agreement was made to move forward with the development of an Arizona Employment First strategy. In January, 2014, an Employment First Core Team comprised of advocates, family members, service providers, educators, state agencies, and the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, was created to help guide the planning process.  As such, monthly meetings were held; a communication plan was developed; an informational webinar was presented; and six community forums were conducted to gather information from additional stakeholders.

The community forums generated a wealth of ideas, recommendations, and suggestions to help move Employment First forward. Input has been archived and is available for review. Please contact us for more information.

Since the public forums, monthly meetings continue(d); an Employment First Strategic Plan was developed and is currently being implemented and updated as necessary; collaborative partnering between the Sonoran UCEDD and RSA developed a Program Manager position to lead the efforts in moving the initiative forward; an Employment First website is being developed; sub-committees have formed; and the cross-stakeholder collaboration continues, including a fully executed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by all parties involved, committing to continuing to work together to make the necessary changes in Arizona to increase employment and community opportunities for individuals who have disabilities.

Who is Involved in Arizona Employment First?

Visit our PARTNERS Page to learn more about the organizations that help make Arizona Employment First possible.

Arizona Employment First is a coalition of stakeholders across Arizona, working together to move Arizona to become an Employment First state. It is comprised of:

  •     Advocates
  •     Educators
  •     Employers
  •     Employment Service Provider Agencies
  •     Family Members
  •     State Agencies
  •     University Centers for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities
  •     Youth and Young Adults

Core Participants:

  • Ability360
  • Achieve Services
  • Arizona Department of Education/Exceptional Student Services
  • Arizona Department of Economic Security
    • Division of Developmental Disabilities
    • Rehabilitation Services Administration/Vocational Rehabilitation/Arizona@Work
  • Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council
  • Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS)
  • ASU Preparatory Academy
  • Beacon Group
  • Gompers
  • NAU/Institute for Human Development/AzTAP
  • Opportunity Tree
  • Raising Special Kids
  • Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center
  • Southwest Institute for Families and Children
  • Statewide Independent Living Council/AZ Youth Leadership
  • UA/Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities
  • Untapped Arizona
  • Valleylife
  • World Institute on Disability

Arizona Employment First also partners and collaborates with the local AZ APSE (Association of People Supporting Employment First) Chapter to further our mission. To learn more about APSE please visit the National APSE site at or for local chapter information visit


This website was made possible through funding provided by the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council in partnership with the University of Arizona/Sonoran UCEDD, and Arizona Employment First stakeholders.