What is the Supported Employment Program?

To enable employment diversity and inclusion, Microsoft Real Estate and Facilities (RE&F) partners with vendors and employment agencies, creating job opportunities for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) at Microsoft facilities across the globe.
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Frequently Asked Questions


Microsoft's mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. We are committed to enabling employment diversity and inclusion at our company, and beyond. Microsoft has a strong history of partnering with government institutions and charitable organizations to enrich communities and provide opportunities for underserved populations. Our Supported Employment program supports this goal. The high rate of unemployment among people with disabilities, as shown in the 2018 US Department of Labor statistics, played a role in our decision to develop the Supported Employment Program.

Labor force participation
  • People with disabilities: 21.5 percent
  • People without disabilities: 68.4 percent
Unemployment rate
  • People with disabilities: 7.4 percent
  • People without disabilities: 3.4 percent
With our corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and hundreds of contracted vendor employers providing services across our many campus locations, it was clear that Microsoft had tremendous potential to provide employment opportunities for a significant number of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Prior to starting the initiative to expand Supported Employment opportunities, Microsoft and Microsoft Real Estate and Facilities vendors had 28 Supported Employees working on the Redmond campus. As this program has developed, the number of individuals with I/DD working on Microsoft’s North American campuses has expanded to over 200 employees.

  • Commitment. It is important to identify why you are getting involved in a Supported Employment program, define what you want to achieve, and set goals and appropriate resources to succeed.
  • Strong partnerships. Build and nurture strong partnerships with employment agencies, employers, and local government offices. These partnerships will help you source qualified candidates for positions that create meaningful opportunities for employment and overcome systemic barriers to employment.
  • Change management. Aligning employers, hiring staff, managers, supervisors, and co-workers is critical to the program’s success. Strong buy-in, training, and celebration will help bring everyone into alignment.

  • An increase in diversity, empathy, and morale.
  • A higher rate of worker retention among employees with disabilities than among those who do not have a disability.
  • An increase in creativity and innovation, as supervisors and co-workers assist Supported Employees in adapting tasks and duties.

The costs are not extensive and are controllable according to the goals you set and the program structure. At the Microsoft RE&F program, our costs include a dedicated resource to oversee the program. Responsibilities include periodic trainings, collecting data, working with the vendors and agencies, keeping current on legislative impacts, and creating advocacy opportunities and marketing materials.

Our advice is to start small—identify the right jobs for the right people, and let it grow from there.

The primary focus of this program is to provide opportunities for Microsoft Real Estate and Facilities (RE&F) vendors to employ people with I/DD. People with I/DD often need initial and long-term job training and support from their selected coaching agency to secure and maintain meaningful employment with opportunities for career growth and progression.

Our primary partners are 13 employment agencies and 10 vendors.

Our 13 employment agency partners serve individuals with I/DD in western Washington state. Government-funded employment agency coaches help people with I/DD prepare for, secure, and retain employment. Based on an individual employment plan, the coach is a resource to the employee and to the employer as the individual learns the job tasks. The coach can also help the employee and employer resolve workplace issues as they arise.

Here are some examples of jobs filled by Supported Employees with Microsoft’s vendor partners:

  • Dining room attendant
  • Warehouse assistant
  • Event services greeter
  • Transportation ambassador
  • PC recycling assistant
  • Receptionist
  • Space reset specialist
  • Human resources
  • Landscaping specialist

Employers do not pay a fee to the coaching agencies. Coaches work for employment coaching agencies, which are usually non-profits funded by government entities. In Washington, the primary government funders are the Department of Social and Health Services, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and county Divisions of Developmental Disabilities.

Supported Employees are paid by their employer. The expectation is that vendors will hire Supported Employees within existing labor budgets within the Real Estate and Facilities scope. Vendors hire Supported Employees for roles that they need to fill.

Different laws define I/DD in different ways. Under Washington law* RCW 71A.10.020(5), the definition of a developmental disability is:

A disability attributable to:
  • Intellectual Disability;
  • Cerebral Palsy;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Autism**; or
  • Another neurological or other condition similar to intellectual disability.
  • Originated before the individual attained age eighteen;
  • Continued or can be expected to continue indefinitely, and
  • Results in substantial limitations to an individual's intellectual and adaptive functioning.
* Each state is likely to have its own specific definition and laws for I/DD.

** As part of Microsoft's commitment to diversity in the workforce, our innovative Autism Hiring program recruits individuals with autism to our engineering teams.

Under Washington State code WAC 388.891.1000, a person is eligible for DVR services if they:
  1. Have a physical, mental, or sensory impairment that results in a substantial impediment to employment,
  2. Require vocational rehabilitation services to get or keep a job, and
  3. Are capable of working as a result of receiving VR services.

As one of the primary funders of vocational services for individuals who require supported employment, DVR assists the individual and his or her family, and its Community Rehabilitation Program determines the best vocational goal for the individual—one that meets their unique abilities and interests. A Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor will coordinate needed assessment services and assistive technology needs and will then fund intensive training services so that the individual receives any needed on-site training to meet employer expectations and become stable on the job. The DVR counselor will then coordinate the transition from DVR funded services, to a long-term support provider.

It takes an applicant three to six months to move through the typical DVR process: application, eligibility screening, vocational assessment, and a plan for employment. However, DVR can “fast-track” the application process and significantly reduce the turnaround. In most cases, with effective collaboration and communication with Community Rehabilitation partner programs, DVR can get the needed services in place before the individual starts their first day of employment.

DVR is committed to supporting all individuals with disabilities who have the potential to benefit from supported employment. Reach out to your local DVR office and ask for the Business Specialist for your area to discuss potential services.

Job opportunities are collaboratively identified by the vendor employers and the program manager.

The traditional model of supported employment job development calls for a coach to work with the employer in customizing a job to a specific candidate. However, at Microsoft RE&F, we use a different approach. We partnered with our vendor employers and challenged them to look at open roles and opportunities and ask, “Could this role by filled by an individual with an I/DD?” As opportunities were identified, the program manager shared job requisitions with all employment agency partners to bring forward their best candidates.

Coaching agencies are our partner for sourcing candidates whose skills and interests are a good fit for a vendor’s positions and teams. Coaches provide individualized services to their participants. They learn about their participants’ skills and interests and assist them with resume building and applying and interviewing for jobs.

Microsoft RE&F conducted a quality-driven selection process to identify agencies that provide job coaching and other long-term support to the Supported Employees. See the Supported Employment Program Toolkit for more details. 
These agencies provide Supported Employment services to adults with I/DD and other disabilities. Thirteen King County coaching agencies are participating on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. See the earlier topic, “Who are the primary partners in the Microsoft RE&F Supported Employment Program” for more information, or download our employment agency list

When a vendor has a job opening for a Supported Employee, the program manager notifies the coaching agency partners. The agencies determine which individuals are best suited and qualified for the specific job opening, and assist those individuals with applying, interviewing, onboarding, and ongoing job coaching.

Candidates for employment should contact one of our partner agencies. See the earlier topic, “Who are the primary partners in the Microsoft RE&F Supported Employment Program” for more information, or download our employment agency list.

Individuals with disabilities may receive federal SSI and Medicaid benefits, which have income thresholds. This means that if a person earns more than the allowed threshold, they will lose their benefits. While full-time employment may be challenging, part-time employment may be a better fit for individuals who wish to preserve federal benefits.

Coaching agencies may be able to provide information about the impact of employment income on benefits.

Benefits planners with knowledge about federal benefits and the impacts of earned income may be available in your area.

There are no increased safety concerns with Supported Employees as long as proper analysis of the tasks involved in a job, and the proper fit between the job and the employee’s skills are aligned. If safety concerns are identified, the employer may modify the tasks or provide accommodations to the employee.

In Redmond, Washington, Supported Employees use a range of transportation options to get to work. In addition to carpooling with family, some employees use fixed route public transportation and others, who are eligible, use door-to-door shuttle services provided by public transit.

Various difficulties with transportation and long commutes continue to present barriers to employment for some individuals. We are discussing alternative transportation ideas as we work on improvements to the program.

We have produced three videos for managers as they help Supported Employees on their team grow their careers. Watch the Career Progression series on YouTube.