Community Life Engagement

Community life engagement refers to all the ways that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities access and participate in their communities outside of employment. Activities can include volunteer work; postsecondary, adult, or continuing education; accessing community facilities such as the library, gym, or recreation center; any activities that people with and without disabilities do in their spare time. CLE activities may support career exploration, wrap around work time, or serve as a retirement option. ICI is conducting research on CLE to develop guidance for states and service providers on how to improve CLE supports while maintaining a focus on Employment First.

For more information on these efforts, see our two publications series and past presentations: 

Engage Briefs

These brief products describe findings and insights from our ongoing research on CLE, including description of the four CLE Guideposts and how they are put in practice at case study sites. Read the series here: Community Life Engagement Engage Series.

Promising Practices in Community Life Engagement

A collaborative effort with the Access to Integrated Employment project , these publications highlight service provider practices that enhance CLE for people with IDD while maintaining a focus on employment. Read the Access to Integrated Employment and Community Life Engagement Promising Practices series here.

Community Life Engagement Presentations

Look here for past presentations from the Community Life Engagement.

Major activities:

  • Engaging with State Employment Leadership Network to identify emerging needs and issues at the state level.
  • Conducting interviews with 13 knowledgeable people representing state IDD agencies, service providers, researchers, family members, and individuals with IDD.
  • Conducting case studies of Community Life Engagement efforts at three exemplary service providers.
  • Developing a promising practices series on state and service provider implementation of Community Life Engagement.
  • Surveying state IDD agencies about their Community Life Engagement policies and practices.
  • Developing, piloting, refining, and disseminating guideposts and toolkits for states and service providers.

Project Team

Jennifer Sullivan Sulewski, Principal Investigator -

Jaimie Timmons, Senior Research Associate

Allison Hall, Senior Research Associate

Oliver Lyons, Research Study Coordinator

Miwa Tanabe, Program Coordinator

Hannah Curren, Graduate Assistant


Sulewski, J.S. (2014, November). Community Life Engagement: A New Initiative of the Institute for Community Inclusion and State Employment Leadership Network. Poster presentation at the annual meeting of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Washington, DC.

Sulewski, J. S. (2010). In search of meaningful daytimes: Case studies of community-based nonwork supports. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 35(1–2), 39–54.

Sulewski, J. S., Butterworth, J., & Gilmore, D. S. (2008). Community-based non-work supports: Findings from the National Survey of Day and Employment Programs for People with Developmental Disabilities.Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 46(6), 456–467.

Sulewski, J. S., Butterworth, J., & Gilmore, D.S. (2006). Community-based non-work services: Findings from the National Survey of Day and Employment Programs for People with Developmental Disabilities.Research to Practice Brief. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Community Inclusion.

Sullivan, J. A., Boeltzig, H., Metzel, D. S., Butterworth, J., & Gilmore, D. S. (2004). The National Survey of Community Rehabilitation Providers, FY2002-2003. Report 2: Non-work services. Research to Practice Brief. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Boston, Institute for Community Inclusion.

TransCen’s WorkLink program: Helping individuals gain work skills through targeted volunteering and other community life engagement activities

WorkLink is a program that enables individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to work while receiving wrap-around day services. Having access to both types of supports -- community employment and Community Life Engagement (CLE) -- is particularly important for individuals with significant IDD, who often work fewer hours and need additional support to lead active and meaningful lives. The program was started in 1996 by TransCen, Inc., and is based in San Francisco, California.

Avenues Supported Living Services: A staffing approach based on client relationships

This brief provides a look the relationship-based staffing practices at Avenues Supported Living Services of Valencia, CA. The key to Avenues’ success is a staffing approach that is grounded in client relationships. The agency limits staff hours to two shifts per week with the same individual. This is done to facilitate client-staff matching and relationship building, but also to prevent potential burnout and frustration by ensuring both the clients they support and their staff have variety in their schedules.

SEEC: Fading supports for Community Life Engagement

SEEC (Seeking Equality, Empowerment, and Community) is a Maryland-based provider of employment, community living, and community development supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Like many providers of individualized supports, SEEC has had to find creative ways to individualize supports even though its funding structures do not support 1:1 staffing. One way they do this is by deliberately building both human capital (community living skills) and social capital (relationships in the community).

LOQW: Using staff networks to build community membership

LOQW (Learning Opportunities/Quality Works) is a community skills training, service coordination, and employment services provider in northeast Missouri. LOQW operates several satellite offices in addition to its main office in Monroe City, MO. One of these satellite offices is located in Hannibal, MO, a city with a population of less than 18,000. But being located in a small city does have its advantages. One advantage is that a majority of the Hannibal staff has lived there for their entire lives, and they have countless connections in the area.

KFI: Flexible Scheduling and Creative Staffing

Headquartered in a small rural town in northern Maine, Katahdin Friends, Inc. (KFI) provides community employment and life engagement supports, as well as home supports, to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). A flexible approach to staffing and support scheduling helps KFI ensure customized daily support schedules that meet individual goals. This approach also allows individuals to interact with a variety of direct support professionals, which is important for having a more engaged and meaningful life in the community.