National Disability Mentoring Month

By: Luke Byram, CAPE-Youth O’Connor Scholar Intern

January is National Disability Mentoring Month.

According to Partners for Youth with Disabilities Mentoring Director Kristin Humphrey, mentoring is a critical disability inclusion strategy that promotes positive academic, employment and independent living outcomes. Partners for Youth with Disabilities indicate that mentored youth:

are more engaged in school,know more about their career options,raise stronger voices as self-advocates andfind supportive communities more often.

The results of a 2014 study by MENTOR National show “that young adults who were at risk for falling off track but had a mentor were 130% more likely to hold leadership positions.” The same study shows that “mentored youth were 78% more likely to volunteer regularly and 90% were interested in becoming a mentor.” When youth have positive experiences with mentoring, they are more likely to become mentors themselves.

Students with disabilities benefit from work-based mentoring as much or more than their peers without disabilities. Work-based mentorship helps students with disabilities:

clarify academic and career interests,fund education expenses,apply knowledge gained in the classroom,learn to navigate disability disclosure,develop interpersonal and job search skills, andnetwork for employment after graduation.

Started in 2002 by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, National Disability Mentoring Month focuses national attention on how mentors create positive outcomes for youth with disabilities. It also shows that when everyone works together, mentoring efforts can make an even bigger impact in young people’s lives. National Disability Mentoring Month aims to:

raise awareness of mentoring in its various forms,recruit mentors andrecruit organizations to engage constituents in mentoring.

During National Disability Mentoring Month, national partners work with local leaders to organize special events in their communities and invite local media outlets and public officials to attend. These events also help engage adults who are interested in becoming mentors.

Every year, MENTOR holds an event called the National Mentoring Summit that brings together public and private-sector leaders who support the mentoring movement, including:

youth leaders,government and civic leaders,practitioners,researchers,philanthropists,MENTOR Affiliates andsupporting partner organizations.

The National Mentoring Summit is an opportunity for the mentoring movement to advocate for a policy agenda that strengthens mentoring programs and practices. The 12th Annual National Mentoring Summit will be held as a hybrid event from January 26-28, 2022, in Washington D.C. 

Transition Services for Justice-Involved Youth & Young Adults with Disabilities

By Abeer Sikder

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that between 30-60% of youth involved in the juvenile justice system have a disability. This means that of the 36,000 youth in juvenile facilities in 2019, around 10,000 to 22,000 of them were likely to have a disability. With so many incarcerated youth and young adults with disabilities, the juvenile justice system should be prepared to provide the accommodations and supports necessary for youth and young adults with disabilities in its care to access educational and workforce training opportunities.

To understand and promote the needs of justice-involved youth with disabilities transitioning into the workforce, the Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth), a grantee of Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, held a virtual roundtable onTransition Services for Justice-Involved Youth & Young Adults with Disabilities with the White House Office of Public Engagement on November 15, 2021. The roundtable discussion focused on understanding the lived experience of justice-involved youth and how the intersection of justice-involvement and disability impacts access to employment, education and more.

Participants included justice-involved youth, community based organizations, elected officials and public administrators in the juvenile justice, youth advocacy and disability rights space. Roundtable participants shared experiences, successes, system barriers and other challenges in serving justice-involved youths and young adults with disabilities.

Below are key themes from some of our guest speakers:

Sarai Cook, founder of the National Trauma Awareness Initiative, discussed her personal experience as a justice-involved youth with disabilities. She stressed the importance of supporting youth to better understand the justice system and their rights within it. She also suggested that state juvenile justice systems should proactively identify necessary accommodations for justice-involved youth with disabilities. 
Kathy Wright, Executive Director of the New Jersey Parents’ Caucus, emphasized the importance of engaging stakeholders, including youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, and improving access to educational services: “Strategies and activities should be developed and delivered by those with lived experience who reside in the targeted community.”
State Senator Whitney Westerfield of Kentucky highlighted the connections between justice-involved youth and young adults and the resulting socioeconomic impact. He noted how the justice system and the lack of early support services predetermine the fate of future generations and can initiate future workforce problems throughout Kentucky and many other states.

This event will contribute to an upcoming report on transition services for justice-involved youth. The report will examine opportunities to increase the education and employment success of justice-involved youth and young adults with disabilities, including identifying stakeholders and how they can better meet the needs of impacted individuals.

For more information on advancing employment policies for youth with disabilities please visit or contact [email protected].

The American Rescue Plan Act: Utilization of Federal Funds to Bolster Employment Supports for Persons with Disabilities

By Rachel Wright, Policy Analyst

Despite earlier evidence of higher unemployment rates among persons with disabilities compared to those without a disability, more recent employment data shows that two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, employment rates among people with disabilities have rebounded faster.  

While 2020 data showed both a disproportionate decrease in the employment rate of working-age people with disabilities and a slowed economic recovery rate among people with disabilities who experienced pandemic-related job loss, data from December 2021 showed a labor force participation rate of people with disabilities that exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the seventh consecutive month. Analysts suggested that the pandemic has created a labor market where persons with disabilities, who are often characterized as resourceful, may be capitalizing on supply-side shortages.

However, it may also be an indicator that programs to support workers with disabilities are seeing success, which makes it incumbent upon state policymakers and their partners to ensure their longevity as part of an inclusive post-pandemic economic recovery. That means a continued focus on recovery policies that bolster employment supports for these individuals and efforts to address the learning loss experienced by young adults who are preparing to enter or re-enter the workforce.

The American Rescue Plan Act: Flexible Funding for State and Local Leaders

Funds made available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) can be leveraged by state policymakers to achieve and continue to support inclusive economic recovery in the states. Passed in March 2021, the ARPA provides approximately $350 billion in fiscal assistance to state and local governments through the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. State leaders have considerable discretion in how they can utilize State Fiscal Recovery Fund (SFRF) dollars, as long as they support programs that respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and its negative economic impacts[1].

Given the demonstrated negative economic impacts of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities, funds appropriated through the SFRF can be utilized to establish and/or bolster existing employment support programs for persons with disabilities. States such as Minnesota and Nevada already have passed legislation appropriating funds for this purpose.

State Fiscal Recovery Fund: Appropriations to Support Inclusive Economic Recovery

On August 5, 2021, the Minnesota Department of Administration requested $960,000 in SFRF funds to support the work of the Office of Equity in Procurement. These funds will assist Targeted Group Businesses – small businesses owned by minorities, people with physical disabilities, and veterans – as they seek to do business with the state.

Also in Minnesota, the Department of Education (DoE) requested $1 million in SFRF funds for grants to school districts and charter schools. These DoE grants will support schools in providing, “secondary transition services to students with disabilities age 18 to 21 who lost instructional time in secondary transition programs during the pandemic.” Supported programs include Project Search, which provides internship sites in the private sector for students with developmental cognitive disabilities.

In Nevada, the legislature passed Senate Bill 461, authorizing the disbursement of $6 million in SFRF funds to the Collaboration Center Foundation. These funds will support services “implemented to address the negative or disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on persons with disabilities.” Supported programs include Inclusion Fusion, an organization dedicated to providing programs for individuals with disabilities that allow them to achieve a successful, independent life.

Nevada Senate Bill 461 also allocated $5 million to the State Treasurer for ABLE Savings Program grants for persons with disabilities under 18 years of age. These grants are intended to assist persons with disabilities who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with expenses such as employment training and supports, assistive technology, personal support services, and other qualified disability expenses.

Tennessee is using ARPA funding to clear a 2,000-person waitlist for a program called Employment and Community First CHOICES that focuses on helping people with disabilities find employment and integrate into their community.

Throughout the states, legislation directing the use of SFRF funds is still under consideration.  To keep up to date with state fiscal recovery plans and related legislation, please visit The Council of State Governments State Recovery Resource Center.

For further information on how to craft economic recovery policies inclusive of persons with disabilities, please review:

Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Workers Throughout and Beyond the COVID-19 PandemicPreparing for Work in a PandemicFacilitating a Safe and Inclusive Return to the WorkplaceFrameworks for a Disability-Inclusive RecoveryPolicy Checklist for a Disability-Inclusive RecoveryGovernor’s Role in Promoting Disability Employment in COVID-19: Recovery StrategiesState ARPA Funding Utilization DatabaseThe Future of Apprenticeship: Inclusion, Expansion, and the Post-Pandemic World of WorkNew Resources Guide States Toward More Inclusive TeleworkThe Promise of TeleworkPromoting Employment for People with Disabilities Through Statewide CoordinationApprenticeship: A Pipeline for an Inclusive RecoveryBuilding Resilience: How Inclusive Apprenticeship Programs Are Responding to COVID-19

For further information on the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on workers with disabilities, please review:

COVID-19 and the Workforce: Impacts on Workers with DisabilitiesImpacts of COVID-19 on Access to Transportation for People with Disabilities2021 Progress Report: The Impact of COVID-19 on People with DisabilitiesThe Pandemic’s Effect on the Economy and Workers

[1] Three additional authorized uses of SFRF funds can be read in the full text of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, available here.

The American Rescue Plan Act: State Recovery Plans Outline Intent to Support Workers with Disabilities

By Rachel Wright, Policy Analyst

In March 2021, Congress passed, and President Biden signed, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The $1.9 trillion package is intended to combat the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. ARPA established the State Fiscal Recovery Fund (SFRF), allocating $195.3 billion to the states, District of Columbia and U.S. territories for COVID-19 relief and recovery. SFRF funds are intended to support government programs that respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and its negative economic impacts.

The State Fiscal Recovery Fund: Planning and Allocation

People with disabilities have disproportionately experienced the negative economic impacts of COVID-19 due to the strain the pandemic has placed on employment opportunities.

For example, many workers with disabilities have medical statuses that put them at risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection, thus straining their ability to remain at work. Workers with disabilities were also faced with restricted public transportation routes and hours, making it difficult for them to arrive at work.

Workforce development programs intended to support these workers have also faced pandemic-related hardship. In 2020 alone, vocational rehabilitation programs providing employment supports services to people with disabilities were required to return $141 million in funding to the federal government due to an inability to meet matching requirements. As such, utilization of SFRF funds to support programs that address the challenges faced by workers with disabilities not only complies with federal guidelines but presents an opportunity for states to craft inclusive economic recovery policies.

State policymakers remain at different stages of the planning and approval process for utilization of SFRF funds. States such as Minnesota and Nevada have received approval to utilize SFRF funds to bolster disability-owned businesses and programs that facilitate workforce transitions among individuals with disabilities. States such as New Jersey and Vermont have submitted Recovery Plans[1], but have yet to receive formal approval for fund allocation.

As of January 2022, all 50 states have submitted recovery plans to the U.S. Treasury. An analysis of these plans provides valuable insight into the ways states are seeking to craft inclusive economic recovery policies. Of the submitted plans, only four states have outlined their intent to devote funds to programs that directly support workers with disabilities. Supported programs include those that provide job training or coaching to students with disabilities, and state Developmental Disability Services agencies that help improve employment outcomes of people with disabilities.

Plans for State Fiscal Recovery Funds: Employment Supports for People with Disabilities

According to the New Jersey 2021 Recovery Plan Performance Report, a portion of SFRF funds will be utilized to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities. Funds will support additional or compensatory education and related services for students with disabilities who have exceeded or will exceed the current age of eligibility for special education or related services. Programs with this purpose provide students with “critical adult-living skills, job training or coaching, and other crucial independent-living skills,” which can lead to improved employment outcomes.

As detailed in the Maryland Recovery Plan Performance Report, the state will invest $5 million in Developmental Disability Providers (DDPs) throughout fiscal years 2021 and 2022 to assist with costs incurred from pandemic-related reopening, transformation and revenue loss. In Maryland, the Developmental Disabilities Administration partners with DDPs to offer employment support and career coaching to clients, empowering them to live independent and fulfilling lives.

In Vermont, $4 million in SFRF funds will support the establishment of the Expanded Capacity and Accessibility for Mental Health Services and Facilities Program. According to the state’s Recovery Plan, funds will be used to make existing housing and community-based facilities providing Developmental Disability Services (DDS) more accessible and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Wrap-around services[2] provided by these facilities help ensure people with disabilities have the critical skills and support to find and maintain employment. In Vermont, the DDS Division oversees the state’s Supported Employment Program, Post-Secondary Education Initiative and the Vocational Grant Program.

Despite the completion of state recovery plans, funds set aside for specific uses may still need to be formally appropriated or otherwise approved before they can be disbursed. Furthermore, even funds formally appropriated are subject to change. To keep up to date with these potential changes, please visit The Council of State Governments State Recovery Resource Center.

[1] State Recovery Plans are required by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and are expected to detail the goals of SFRF fund utilization and how programs will achieve these goals in an effective, efficient and equitable manner.

[2] Wrap-around service delivery is a collaborative case management approach used to describe a program that is flexible, family or person-oriented and comprehensive.

States Address Mental Health Stigma and Employability 

By Sean Slone, Senior Policy Analyst

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on mental health. According to a 2021 survey by the American Psychological Association, psychologists reported significant increases in demand for treatment of anxiety, depression and trauma since 2020. For every person who seeks help however, there may be many more who do not due to concerns about stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental health conditions.  

Attitudes and stigma around mental health were one of the topics addressed in a 2021 study on mental health at work published by the organization Mind Share Partners. According to the study, the nation may be witnessing a subtle shift in those attitudes in the wake of pandemic impacts. Among the findings: 

58% of respondents were willing to hire or work with someone with a mental health condition, up from 46% in 2019. 55% of respondents believe that an employee with a mental health condition could be just as productive as one without, up from 52% in 2019. 55% said they knew someone personally with a mental health condition, up from 50% in 2019. 43% said they knew someone personally at work, up from 32% in 2019. 41% said they knew someone personally at work who they also considered talented or successful, up from 29% in 2019. 

Moreover, the pandemic’s toll on mental health may be prompting some state policymakers to enact policies designed to reduce and discourage the stigmatization of seeking treatment. For example, Illinois lawmakers have debated a bill (House Bill 4229) that would provide tax incentives to employers who employ individuals in recovery from substance use or mental illness. The legislation would also create an advisory council on mental illness and substance use disorder impacts on employment opportunities within minority communities. The legislative language includes the finding that “in the interest of reducing stigma and increasing the available pool of potential employees, the General Assembly finds and declares that those residents of Illinois diagnosed with mental illness and substance use disorders should be eligible for and encouraged to seek gainful employment.” The legislation goes on to note that minority communities in the state have been more negatively impacted and that employers have suffered negative economic impacts including staffing and recruitment difficulties. 

The mental health challenges faced by a couple of specific populations have been the focus of many de-stigmatization efforts. It has been estimated that 20 to 25 percent of the nation’s homeless population suffers from severe mental illness, compared to 6 percent of the general public. But the number of homeless individuals suffering from “mental health issues” could be far higher. A recent survey found that 63 percent of homeless individuals in Portland, Oregon suffer from mental health issues and say they need more help. Another group—the recently incarcerated—can face numerous psychological challenges upon their release, including discrimination, isolation and instability, which can lead to devastating outcomes including homelessness, substance misuse and suicide. The housing needs of those experiencing homelessness and the employability of recently incarcerated individuals are the focus of legislation under consideration in several states. Among them: 

California, where Senate Bill 903 (still pending as of June 14) would require the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board to regularly examine the mental health, substance abuse, educational and employment programs for incarcerated persons and parolees operated by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as well as the department’s efforts to assist incarcerated persons and parolees to obtain post-release health care coverage and housing. The board would be required to report annually to the Governor and the Legislature about the data indicating the number of parolees who are experiencing homelessness and those previously identified as having serious mental health needs. Tennessee, where lawmakers during the 2022 session considered but did not give final passage to Senate Bill 2867, which would have directed the Tennessee advisory commission on intergovernmental relations to perform a study of current programs in the state related to services provided to homeless persons for shelter, mental health and safety, and to prepare a report comparing those programs and designating those programs with the highest success rate of helping individuals find employment and permanent shelter.  Washington, where Senate Bill 5304, passed in 2021, seeks to provide strategies to prevent the interruption of medical assistance benefits and allow a seamless transfer between systems of care for those released from state and local institutions. According to the legislative language, the legislature found that “the success of persons with behavioral health needs being released from confinement in a prison, jail, juvenile rehabilitation facility, state hospital, and other state and local institutions can be increased with access to continuity of medical assistance, supportive services, and other targeted assistance.”   

In commemoration of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, CSG, CSG East and the State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED) hosted a webinar focused on mental health and the workplace. The webinar explored how state policymakers have an opportunity to support both employers and employees, to advance access to mental health services and supports, to address workforce shortages and to help shape the modern workplace to better meet the needs of the American worker. Also highlighted was the recently released SEED report “Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Workers Throughout and Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic,” along with findings about the state of employer health benefits, workplace culture, communities of color and the expansion of workplace mental health supports. You can access the webinar recording here

Career and Technical Education Month

By: Sydney Blodgett

Observed each February, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month® celebrates the importance of CTE and the accomplishments of related programs across the nation. The Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) explains that “CTE is education that directly prepares students for high-wage, high-demand careers. CTE covers many different fields, including health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing, hospitality and management, and many more. […] CTE encompasses many different types of education, from classroom learning to certification programs to work-based learning opportunities outside the classroom.”

CAPE-Youth recognizes that CTE accessibility is important for youth and young adults with disabilities (Y&YAD). While all students can benefit from participation in CTE, it is an especially effective career pathway for Y&YAD. Research demonstrates that CTE leads to improved graduation rates and employment outcomes for Y&YAD. For example, students with disabilities (SWD) who participate in 4 or more CTE classes are 20% more likely to be employed after graduation.

However, Y&YAD can face challenges accessing and succeeding in CTE programs, such as CTE facilities that are unequipped to accommodate students with physical disabilities or inadequate CTE instructor training on supporting SWD. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these challenges. CAPE-Youth recently published a policy brief entitled Promoting and Maintaining Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities: State Strategies Developed During the COVID-19 Pandemic. This brief describes how states were able to adapt resources to address challenges SWD had accessing CTE during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, it shares how states have expanded CTE access for students with disabilities. The brief offers policy considerations for states, including:

1. Strengthening interagency collaboration to maximize resources, address inequities and streamline CTE service provision.

2. Using federal funding to leverage and provide technology to expand access to CTE for SWD.

3. Offering stackable credentials to facilitate employment opportunities.

4. Increasing CTE instructors’ capacity to serve SWD through professional development opportunities.

5. Improving data collection efforts to identify and address CTE access challenges for SWD.

Access a recording of CAPE-Youth’s webinar highlighting its CTE brief and featuring state leaders here: Promoting Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities

In addition, CAPE-Youth will present Inclusive Workforce Readiness: Apprenticeships for Youth with Disabilities at the upcoming ACTE National Work-Based Learning Conference.

Learn more about how to engage in National CTE Month at

Upcoming Webinar to Highlight State Efforts to Increase Inclusive Apprenticeships

By Sean Slone, Senior Policy Analyst

States are moving forward in a variety of ways to ensure a future for apprenticeships that expands into new fields and offers greater inclusion for individuals with disabilities. A February 24 webinar from The Council of State Governments (CSG) will highlight the efforts of three states and the findings of a recent report from CSG and the State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED), “The Future of Apprenticeship: Inclusion, Expansion, and the Post-Pandemic World of Work.” 

Colorado: Lawmakers approved legislation in 2021 to create a new state apprenticeship agency to “accelerate new apprenticeship program growth and assist in promotion and development.” Two councils that will advise development of a state plan will each include at least one member focused on promoting equal opportunity in apprenticeships. Denise Miller, apprenticeship expansion manager in Colorado’s Office of the Future of Work, will talk about how the state’s approach will be different. New Jersey: It is not just about offering apprenticeship opportunities to those with disabilities. States also can make efforts to ensure apprentices with disabilities are ultimately successful by providing support services and removing barriers to success. Lawmakers in New Jersey passed legislation in 2020 establishing a five-year pilot program providing stipends to offset transportation and childcare costs for apprentices. Workers underrepresented in apprenticeship programs, including individuals with disabilities, were given priority under the measure. New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, who has championed apprenticeship legislation, will be among the webinar presenters. Ohio: States are encouraging more inclusion of individuals with disabilities in apprenticeships by acting as model employers, signing up apprentices for public sector work experience opportunities at state agencies. Jon Hackathorn, business relations manager for employer and innovation services at Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, will talk about one such program. Ohio’s Vocational Apprentice Program supports a 2019 executive order issued by Governor Mike DeWine establishing Ohio as a disability inclusion state and model employer of individuals with disabilities.

Moderating the discussion will be David Leon, director of workforce programs at the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. 

The recent CSG-SEED report on “The Future of Apprenticeship” incorporates input from dozens of apprenticeship program officials and experts around the country, examples from 30 states, and a comprehensive list of suggested strategies across four categories: 

Promoting and sustaining inclusivity in apprenticeships, particularly for individuals with disabilities; Ensuring long-term sustainable growth in funding for apprenticeships; Expanding apprenticeship opportunities; and Ensuring the resilience of apprenticeship programs. 

As noted in the report, among the ways state officials can promote and sustain inclusivity are: 

Working across state agencies to ensure apprenticeship programs reflect the unique strengths and needs of individuals with disabilities; Creating pre-apprenticeship opportunities to ensure those with disabilities have the necessary skills to participate in apprenticeships; Creating tax incentives for businesses that hire apprentices with disabilities; and Requiring that apprenticeship expansion initiatives increase diversity and inclusion. 

The benefits of inclusive apprenticeships are numerous, offering the opportunity for: 

Apprentices to gain hands-on career training; Employers to train their future workforce; and  States to increase the pipeline of qualified public and private sector employees. 

For individuals with disabilities, the benefits of inclusive apprenticeships can be even more profound, allowing them to demonstrate their value to an employer and gain new skills that can set them on a promising career path.  

The free webinar, The Future of Apprenticeship: Inclusion and Expansion in a Post-Pandemic World of Work, will take place February 24 at 2:00 p.m. (ET). Register HERE to receive the Zoom link for the conversation. 

New Federal Guidance for Healthcare Providers on Civil Rights Protections for Individuals with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

By Sean Slone, Senior Policy Analyst

“Our civil rights laws stand no matter what, including during disasters or emergencies, and it is critical that we work together to ensure equity in all that we do for all patients,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement.

This statement followed a string of complaints filed in early 2020 against a number of states alleging that their respective guidelines illegally discriminated against persons with disabilities. For example, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and others raised concerns that a state plan governing critical care allocation during the pandemic ordered hospitals to “not offer mechanical ventilator support for patients” with “severe or profound mental retardation,” “moderate to severe dementia” or “severe traumatic brain injury.” These concerns formed the basis for a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (HHS/OCR). Similar complaints were filed against other states.

Rather than negate these complaints, Alabama, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Utah entered settlement agreements with HHS/OCR.  In addition, OCR resolved complaints with the North Texas Mass Critical Care Guidelines Task Force, the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council and the Indian Health Service to revise each entity’s crisis standards of care guidelines to reflect best practices for serving individuals with disabilities. OCR also resolved a complaint in Connecticut involving visitation rights for persons with disabilities in hospitals who require support personnel.

Consistent with these settlement agreements applicable to particular states, OCR recently issued guidance to healthcare providers making it clear that civil rights protections for people with disabilities continue to have the force of law even when the nation is in a public health emergency.

“During a public health emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic, biases and stereotypes may impact decision-making when hospitals and other providers are faced with scarce resources,” said OCR Director Lisa J. Pino. “OCR will continue our robust enforcement of federal civil rights laws that protect people with disabilities from discrimination, including when Crisis Standards of Care are in effect.”

Crisis Standards of Care are state rules for triaging scarce resources that hospitals are required to follow. The standards vary widely by state and some plans give hospitals substantial discretion

Under the OCR guidance, persons with disabilities must be provided an opportunity to participate in, or benefit from, all healthcare and health-related services afforded to others, including COVID-19 testing, medical supplies, medication, hospitalization, long-term care, intensive treatments and critical care, including oxygen therapy and ventilators.

The guidance reflects concerns that biases and stereotyping may have impacted decision-making when hospitals and other healthcare providers have allocated scarce resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new guidance updates a previous issuance in March 2020. Any healthcare program or activity receiving federal financial assistance from HHS is subject to federal civil rights protections. To be in compliance, such healthcare entities must consider a specific patient’s ability to benefit from the treatment sought, free from bias about disability.

The new guidance is based on protections articulated in federal regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and is part of continuing HHS efforts to protect at-risk populations, advance equity and address disparities in healthcare provision during the pandemic.

The guidance was issued in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs). Numbers 5, 6 and 7 of the FAQs outline scenarios that a healthcare provider might consider in the allocation of resources:

Whether an individual with a disability or an individual who is likely to have a disability after treatment will have a lower quality of life or relative worth to society compared with an individual without a disability who also requires treatment.Whether they can provide healthcare or deny a resource to an individual with a disability who has COVID-19 if it may require more of the resource than treating individuals without disabilities for COVID-19.Whether they can consider that an individual with a disability may not live as long as an individual without a disability after treatment.

The answer in each case is “No.”

The guidance also addresses how civil rights obligations apply to visitation policies and vaccination, testing and contact tracing programs.

Disability rights advocates say COVID-19 has exacerbated existing disparities faced by people with disabilities. The guidance is something they have argued for since the earliest days of the pandemic, said Maria Town, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

“While we wish this guidance would have been issued sooner, the FAQs released by the department will provide health care providers and patients with disabilities alike with vital information to ensure that no person with a disability is denied necessary care during a crisis, a fear that continues to be all too real as we enter the third year of the pandemic,” she said.

Order of Selection: How Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies Prioritize Service to Individuals with Disabilities 

By Anna Lucchese, Policy Fellow

State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies assist individuals with disabilities to prepare for, secure, retain, advance in, or regain employment that is consistent with the individual’s unique strengths, abilities, interests, and informed choice. Due to limited funding, State VR agencies do not always have the capacity to serve everyone eligible for VR services. Order of Selection (OOS) was therefore included in Title I of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to prioritize individuals already receiving assistance from these agencies. OOS requires that during times when resources are scarce, VR agencies must create “the order to be followed in selecting eligible individuals to be provided vocational rehabilitation services.” As of April 2022, there are 41 VR agencies that use the OOS system and 37 VR agencies that do not.

The U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration has established general policies governing OOS [34 Code of Federal Regulations 361.36]. If the State VR agency is unable to provide the full range of VR services to all eligible individuals who apply for services, it must: 

Show the order to be followed; 
Provide justification for the order; and 
Assure that individuals with the most significant disabilities will be selected first. 

In addition, State VR agencies are required to provide access to services provided through a mandatory information and referral system. [34 Code of Federal Regulations 361.36(a)(3)(iv)(B) and 361.37] This policy enables candidates for services to be proactive while they wait for VR services and potentially secure employment in the interim. A VR agency also must refer the candidate to other agencies within the state’s workforce development system (e.g., job centers) that may have the capacity to help them while they are on the waiting list. As a result, these options may help reduce the number of eligible individuals waiting to be provided support and free up resources within VR agencies.  [See, for example, the regulations implementing the Missouri Information and Referral system.] 

Consistent with these general policies, each state may establish its own policies implementing OOS. For example, in Kentucky, there are five priority categories based on an individual’s functional capacity. Functional capacity refers to a person’s ability to perform employment-related tasks, which includes mobility, communication, self-care, self-direction, interpersonal skills, work tolerance and work skills. In Washington, the OOS system categorizes candidates as either open or closed based on the severity of the individual’s disability and the number of functional limitations. Candidates within the open category can access the full range of services at the agency. Candidates in the closed category are placed on a statewide waitlist and may be served once resources become more available.  

While the purpose of OOS is to prioritize services to individuals with the most significant disabilities, some have argued this may deter these less significant cases from receiving assistance. To remedy this, some states still work to serve individuals who have been placed on the waiting list in a more limited capacity. For example, Missouri ensures all eligible individuals, regardless of their OOS status, will have access to accurate information and referral systems offered by VR agencies. This method makes it possible for candidates to be proactive while they wait for additional services and potentially secure employment before, they become eligible for more personalized resources. A VR agency also can refer the candidate to other agencies that may have more capacity to help them while they are on the waiting list. As a result, these options may help reduce the number of eligible individuals waiting to be provided support and free up resources within VR agencies.   

Another proposed solution is increasing funding for VR programs to provide additional staffing and resources. Since only a small portion of the millions of individuals with disabilities are eligible for services, advocates have suggested there needs to be more investment in these facilities so qualified candidates will receive sufficient support. States have addressed this concern in recent years by increasing funding for VR agencies. For example, Georgia has increased funding for VR agencies to help individuals with disabilities “achieve independence and meaningful employment.” An increase in access to more resources will likely lead to fewer individuals having to wait for services and instead be placed on a more efficient pathway to achieving their employment goals.  

Engaging the Private Sector: States Employ Tax Incentives to Support Hiring of People with Disabilities 

By Anna Lucchese, Policy Fellow and Dalton Goble, Policy Fellow

In this rapidly changing world of workforce development, businesses are seeking to diversify their staff through a variety of ways. Hiring people with disabilities is a beneficial option for organizations to achieve this goal while addressing labor needs and obtaining competitive advantages. Studies have indicated that hiring individuals with disabilities improves profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction and inclusive work culture. To encourage these positive outcomes, state governments have worked closely to construct policies that engage the private sector and provide meaningful job opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

States have sought to accomplish this through: 

Issuing tax incentives to businesses for hiring persons with disabilities and for providing employment accessibility; Providing technical assistance and engaging businesses in the policymaking process; Developing and using talent pipelines to link businesses with qualified applicants; and Including diversity and inclusion initiatives and goals in partnerships with the private sector. 

This brief focuses on state examples of tax incentives, which have served as an efficient way to encourage businesses to hire people with disabilities. “Tax incentives” refers to providing tax credits to businesses that hire workers with disabilities and/or provide additional training to workers with disabilities.  

Examples of State Tax Credits: 

Delaware provides tax credits for businesses that hire individuals with disabilities who participate in vocational rehabilitation programs. This tax credit is accessible throughout the duration of the individual’s employment with the company. Once the employee is hired, the business is eligible to receive a tax credit equivalent to 10 percent of the employee’s wages.  

Iowa provides small businesses who hire individuals with disabilities with a tax credit of 65 percent of wages for the first year of employment. To be considered a small business, there must be 20 or less full-time employees. This law defines a person with a disability as, “someone who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a history of impairment…qualifies for the targeted job tax credit as a person with a disability undergoing rehabilitation.” Within in this definition, “impairment” includes, and is not limited to, psychological conditions, anatomical loss and cosmetic disfigurement.  

Some states are taking a different approach to support businesses who employ individuals with disabilities through tax credit policies aimed at the consumer. For example, the Kansas legislature passed House Bill 2044, which provides an income tax credit for taxpayers who purchase goods and services from certified vendors employing persons with disabilities. This tax credit is equal to 15 percent of the amount purchased by the qualified vendor and cannot exceed $500,000 per tax year.  

Examples of Federal Tax Credits: 

When constructing tax credit policies, states can draw lessons from federal tax credit programs. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) supports individuals who have faced barriers to employment. The WOTC provides a tax credit to businesses that hire individuals formerly involved in the justice system, vocational rehabilitation referrals and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients. The Disabled Access Credit is focused on businesses that gross under $1 million and have 30 or fewer employees. This tax credit is provided to alleviate expenses that occur because of improvements in accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Examples of common accessibility expenses include access to sign language interpreters and readers, adaptive equipment and audio tapes. 

Another accessibility tax credit for a business of any size is The Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction and is specific to removing physical barriers in new and existing business facilities. Through this deduction, a business can receive up to $15,000 per year to pay for accessibility expenses.   

In sum, tax incentive policies and programs can promote workforce growth and diversification. These measures provide support to businesses while also encouraging the employment of persons with disabilities. Such outcomes benefit the economy by addressing labor shortages within industries and reducing business tax obligations. States have achieved these goals through crafting tax incentives for businesses to hire individuals with disabilities. States also have enacted policies providing tax incentives for consumers to buy goods and services from these businesses. Employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities can be further expanded by mirroring federal programs designed to assist businesses in diversifying their workforces.