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As Missourians with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in the workforce, the community provider system that services them seeks to understand a complex political process—a process Erika Leonard, Executive Director of the Missouri Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (MARF), has successfully navigated for 14 years. On June 19th, Leonard will share her recommendations at the 2019 Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) Conference; attendees will hear an overview of how the Missouri legislative process works, how to impact it and the benefits of playing an active role. 

The 2019 APSE Conference on June 18-20 at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis will bring together over 1,000 community leaders, employers, individuals with disabilities and organizations impacted by Employment First. Employment First is a state-wide initiative that promotes community-based integrated employment as the FIRST option for individuals with disabilities. MARF, a platinum sponsor of the conference, represents 95+ community providers across the state of Missouri who help ensure these individuals receive the resources they need to gain meaningful, independent employment.  

“All individuals have the right to earn a living wage in a job of their choosing, based on their unique talents, gifts, skills, and interests,” said Erika Leonard, Executive Director of MARF. “MARF Members are dedicated to providing the tools and supports necessary so that Missourians with disabilities can thrive in their communities, become successful members of society and tax paying citizens.”  

A 2018 study by the American Association of People with Disabilities found that businesses that actively seek to employ people with disabilities outperform businesses that do not: revenues are 28% higher, net income is 2x more and employers who embraced disability saw a 90% increase in employee retention. According to the same study, if employers were to actively participate in hiring individuals with disabilities, they would have access to a talent pool of more than 10.7 million people with diverse strengths, leadership styles and ways of thinking. Furthermore, the economy could see a boost of nearly $25 billion if just 1% more individuals with disabilities joined the workforce.

Leonard continued, “The need for the Missouri Legislature’s support of Employment First and providing critical services to achieve it is essential. At the upcoming conference I will share the legislative and employment impact Missouri must embrace.”  

The 2019 Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) Conference is the only national conference focused solely on the advancement of Employment First.  

Registration for the 2019 National APSE Conference: Gateway to Inclusive Employment is still open.

About Missouri Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (MARF):

MARF is a 95+ member organization that improves the lives of Missourians with disabilities by driving public policy and strengthening member organizations through advocacy, education and collaboration. The organization is made up of two working divisions: Community Living and Employment. Visit for more information.

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