DIDD’s New Director of Employment Innovation to Address Barriers to Getting, Keeping Jobs

/ March 2, 2021

By Carrie Brna

When you hear the word “employment,” you probably think about words like “job,” “work,” “paycheck,” and maybe even “competitive integrated employment,” if you’re familiar with the Tennessee’s Employment First movement. When hearing the word “employment,” you probably don’t think of words like “innovation” and “technology.” The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and I wish to change that.

Let me back up and introduce myself. My name is Carrie Brna, and as of December 2020, I have been the state director of Employment Innovation and Day Services for DIDD. I have worked in disability services with the state of Tennessee since 2016, having been a part of the Long-Term Services and Supports Systems Transformation team with TennCare, and more recently serving as the director of Staff and Provider Development with DIDD. At TennCare, I also served as the Housing and Employment specialist, where I discovered my passion for the Employment First movement that champions the notion that employment should be the “first and preferred outcome” for everyone, including people with disabilities.

As I said earlier, my new role at DIDD is focused on employment; however, my work goes beyond traditional Medicaid-reimbursed employment services, as it includes a focus on community inclusion, transportation, and emphasizes innovation and Enabling Technology as ways to address barriers to full participation in employment and one’s community. In this instance, Enabling Technology is aimed at increasing employment by using different technologies, devices and applications to help someone get, keep and excel at his or her job of choice.

Stakeholders have told us that the lack of accessible and affordable transportation across Tennessee is a major barrier to people being able to work. To address employment barriers, I will be focusing on combining accessible transportation strategies using mobile technologies and other innovative solutions and community partnerships to help people safely and routinely get transportation in their communities.

It is my hope that through my work as DIDD’s state director of Employment Innovation and Day Services, I will be able to change the way we think about employment services to include a focus on innovation and allow the opportunity for people to receive job supports in new ways; ways that no longer mean someone must always have a job coach physically present with them at work; ways that will allow for someone to use a device or application to provide immediate remote-access to their job coach or direct support staff to help them navigate and solve problems in real time and create more natural on-the-job supports. I envision pre-employment services that involve someone using virtual reality or augmented reality to explore possible work environments from the safety and comfort of their home. I hope to see more people using customized GPS-enabled applications to safely travel to and from work or their community activities, and thus affording someone the independence they have long dreamed of.

I know that there’s a lot of hard work ahead of me, but I couldn’t be more excited to be spearheading the transformation of DIDD’s employment director position to include a focus on innovation, Enabling Technology and community inclusion.

Thank you, Carrie, for sharing your vision of what DIDD’s employment innovations may look like and your new role. If any of you readers have questions for Carrie or for me, you can contact me at janet.shouse@vumc.org. And thank you for reading!

Carrie Brna smilingCarrie Brna joined the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in 2019 and currently serves as the state director of Employment Innovation and Day Services. Previously, Carrie worked at TennCare on the Systems Transformation and Innovation efforts for Long Term Services and Supports. Prior to joining the state in 2016, Carrie worked as a travel trainer, supporting people with disabilities to learn the accessibility features of the fixed-route public transportation system in Chicago. Carrie received a master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in Disability Studies.

March 2, 2021

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