Subcommittees Share Practices to Remove Employment Barriers for People with Disabilities
By Shawntaye Hopkins, CSG Communications Associate
In advance of a report designed to help state leaders make policies that improve the lives of people with disabilities, the National Task Force on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities held a series of CSG eCademy webcasts in November that highlighted the task force’s research and the barriers people with disabilities face in employment.
The task force—a collaboration of The Council of State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislatures through support from the U.S. Department of Labor—convened four subcommittees focused on policy areas that impact the employability of people with disabilities: Career Readiness and Employability; Entrepreneurship, Tax Incentives and Procurement; Transportation, Technology and Other Employment Supports; and Hiring, Retention and Re-entry. Each subcommittee got a chance to discuss its efforts in the four-part eCademy series.
The full report titled, “Work Matters: A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities,” will be presented on Thursday, Dec. 8, during the 2016 CSG National Conference in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.
In the first eCademy session of the series, Mindy Larson, senior program associate for the Institute for Educational Leadership’s Center for Workforce Development, said 42 states and the District of Columbia encourage individualized learning plans for career and college readiness.
An individualized learning plan, or ILP, is both a document and a process that students use to define their career goals and postsecondary plans in order to inform student decisions about courses and activities.
“Being engaged in this process is really helping students find the relevance of their educational experience because they’re starting to hone in on what motivates them,” Larson said.
National research shows a correlation between engaging in a quality individualized learning plan process and better college and career readiness, Larson said. One component of ILPs should be work-based learning, which is one of the strongest predictors of later employment.
“We know that when individuals with disabilities are part of the workforce that everyone benefits from that,” said South Dakota state Rep. Jacqueline Sly, co-chair of the Career Readiness and Employability subcommittee. “It also helps them gain independence and we also reach out to workers that maybe wouldn’t have jobs otherwise, and they add a lot of additional people that will build that strong workforce that we need.”
Tax policy can also help drive change, said Michael Morris, executive director of the National Disability Institute, in the eCademy session focused on the Entrepreneurship, Tax Incentives and Procurement subcommittee.
“Tax policy offers opportunities to create incentives to change individual or system behavior both in the public and private sector,” Morris said.
In the same session, Jill Houghton, president and CEO of the U.S. Business Leadership Network, said the concept of supplier diversity, which came about in the 1960s to encourage the private sector to support minority-owned businesses, also can be used to support businesses owned by people with disabilities.
The U.S. Business Leadership Network’s Disability Supplier Diversity Program came about because employers wanted to include businesses owned by people with disabilities in their supplier diversity programs, Houghton said. But the businesses needed a third party to help them demonstrate that the businesses were 51 percent owned, operated, controlled and managed by a person (or people) with a disability.
“And so they looked to us to create a certification,” Houghton said. “In doing so, we didn’t recreate the wheel, we went to other third parties.”
Houghton said her group looked at certification standards from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Certification doesn’t guarantee business, but it can help diverse businesses grow, she said.
Another area states should explore in increasing work opportunities for people with disabilities is transportation. Transportation should be widely available, reliable, affordable and accessible to people with disabilities, said David D’Arcangelo, director of the Massachusetts Office on Disability.
“If you can’t get to work, you can have the best skills in the world, but you’re never going to be able to get that job,” D’Arcangelo said.
However, Aaron Bangor, chair of the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, said it’s also a good idea to rethink the need for physical transportation.
“Are there ways to bring employment, recreational opportunities, government services, medical and so forth to that person in an environment they’re comfortable with, such as their home?” Bangor asked.
For people with disabilities who work outside their homes, the “Bring Your Own Device movement” has allowed some of those employees to use their own devices, such as communications devices, when necessary equipment isn’t available in the workplace. While there may be some issues related to privacy and security, many businesses have embraced this idea, and it can help people with disabilities transition into the workplace, he said.
The Hiring, Retention and Re-entry subcommittee encourages states to serve as model employers of people with disabilities by enacting policies that increase disability inclusion and by serving as an example for the private sector.
“What we noticed around the country in terms of state policies, states adopted three basic approaches,” said Bobby Silverstein, a principal at Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville, PC. “Some adopted only executive orders issued by the governor—like Kansas, New Mexico and Vermont—to pursue state-as-a-model-employer initiatives. Some passed legislation … and a number of states actually did both.”
In a unique situation in Maryland, there is a cabinet-level position that acts as champion to people with disabilities, Silverstein said, turning the session over to William Frank, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Disabilities.
In 2004, Frank said, the governor proposed legislation that elevated the Office of Disabilities in the state to the Department of Disabilities.
“We invite other states around the country to replicate what we’ve done,” Frank said. “Jump in the water’s warm, and it’s worked out really well here in Maryland.”
The CSG eCademy sessions on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities are available for viewing in the CSG Knowledge Center.