Disability Mentoring: Benefits for Youth with Intersecting Identities

By: Luke Byram

January is National Mentoring Month. While mentoring relationships benefit all youth, they may have a particularly positive impact on youth who face barriers to education and employment—such as youth with disabilities and especially those who may have intersecting identities.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), disability mentoring occurs when a person with a disability provides advice and support to another person, usually someone with a similar disability. Mentoring can be short-term in nature, such as a single-day job shadowing opportunity or career exploration experience, which could occur on National Job Shadow Day on February 2, 2023 or on National Mentoring Day on October 27, 2023. Mentoring could also reflect a more robust ongoing relationship between a mentor and youth with regularly scheduled meetings focused on supporting the youth in planning and achieving their goals. The relationship often focuses on a specific task, such as living independently, recovering from a traumatic event, obtaining employment or transitioning into the workforce. The mentor serves as a role model and provides information and guidance specific to the mentee’s experiences and identified needs.

Research clearly indicates the success of disability mentoring. Mentoring promotes career exploration and helps youth and young adults with disabilities make more informed choices about their academic and employment goals. The National Mentoring Resource Center reviewed 40 studies on mentoring for youth with disabilities and found that having a mentor with the same disability is associated with better employment and career development outcomes, including a stronger academic trajectory, smoother transitions, more well-developed life skills and higher quality of life.

These findings reinforce the benefits of mentoring overall. According to Mentor, mentoring programs help middle and high school students develop essential cognitive and social-emotional skills for school and workplace success. Guider reports similar long-term benefits for marginalized populations, including increased self-esteem and confidence in their ability to achieve goals.

Youth and young adults who have intersecting identities—such as youth of color with disabilities—are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and other barriers and may need tailored mentoring to fit their unique needs. Bernadette Sánchez of DePaul University states that there is a strong need for mentoring youth of color (Black youth in particular) to help them achieve positive academic, social and employment outcomes in the long term.

Hamza Jaka is a person of color and disabled attorney who has experience with these positive benefits from both sides, having been mentored and served as a mentor himself. Recently, CAPE-Youth had the opportunity to speak with him about his mentoring experiences.

Question: In what ways did you benefit by having a mentor?

Jaka: My mentors have always helped me think about my life and what I want, helped me plan out my career and my future and provided a comforting, but firm presence in my life.

Question: What tips, suggestions, recommendations or advice do you have for those considering whether to be mentored?

Jaka: Find a mentor who fits your life. Don’t just take people’s suggestions, and certainly take a mentor’s advice with a grain of salt. It is your life – you need to find someone who fits. Mentors should have hard conversations if you want to have them, but they should not make you feel awful.

Question: In what ways did you benefit by being a mentor yourself?

Jaka: I learned just how much I have grown and the importance of being a presence in someone’s life, without overstating my own experiences.

Question: What tips, suggestions, recommendations or advice do you have for mentors of other youth and young adults with disabilities?

Jaka: Be kind, don’t project [your experiences onto them] and remember your mentee is different from you and doesn’t always need to take your advice. Respect their time as well. Your mentees are awesome people and deserve that respect.

Question: What did you learn through your mentorship relationships?

Jaka: How to keep my promises and share my experiences without living vicariously through other people. Too often mentors bring their own lived experiences into a mentee’s life rather than listening to the mentee.

Question: What challenges did you experience in the mentoring relationship?

Jaka: Finding time to connect! I also would have loved to meet in-person.

Question: What can state policy leaders do to advance disability mentoring for youth and young adults with disabilities at the state level?

Jaka: Fund evidenced-based mentoring programs, make connections between disabled constituents and come to disability events. Also, make it a priority to listen to organizations run by disabled people, especially disabled people of color.

CAPE-Youth offers a number of resources to help state policymakers explore ways to implement programs and services—including mentoring initiatives—that meet the needs of youth and young adults with intersecting identities. Further information about Mentoring Month, including outreach tools and tips, is available at MENTOR

Colorado Shifts to Skills-Based Hiring to Fill State Government Workforce Needs and Hire More Individuals with Disabilities

By Elise Gurney, Project Manager

State governments are facing unprecedented workforce shortages. Since 2010 there has been a steady increase in the rate of people leaving state and local government, which accelerated to a high of 11.7% amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 2022 there were 695,000 fewer people employed in state and local government jobs than before the pandemic. One strategy states have used to meet their workforce needs is skills-based hiring, where states screen candidates based on their skills, capabilities, and talents, rather than their educational background. This practice allows states to access a larger, more diverse pool of candidates, including individuals with disabilities.

Colorado has adopted particularly wide-reaching skills-based hiring initiatives through Executive Order 2022-15, signed by Gov. Jared Polis on April 14, 2022. The Executive Order instructs the Colorado state government to transition to skills-based hiring to meet the state’s workforce needs and “build a more diverse workforce by promoting the hiring of individuals from varied backgrounds and work experiences.” While the Executive Order does not explicitly mention individuals with disabilities, Lynne Steketee, Colorado’s Statewide Chief Human Resources Officer and Director of the Division of Human Resources explains that “skills-based hiring opens the door for so many qualified candidates who may not have [had] the opportunity before, including those with disabilities.”

Role of Skills-Based Hiring in Increasing Employment of Individuals with Disabilities

Under skills-based hiring, hiring managers focus on “what candidates know how to do, not where they learned it.” This involves writing job descriptions that indicate the specific skills required for a job, with the recognition that these skills may have been developed through education, training, or past experiences (e.g., community college, military service, running a household). Skills-based hiring can also entail using professionally-developed competency-based assessments to evaluate a candidate’s skills.

Skills-based hiring can help state agencies increase employment of people with disabilities because it:

Eliminates educational requirements. Individuals with disabilities are less likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree than people with no disability. By replacing educational requirements with skills requirements, state agencies remove a key barrier to entry into the state government workforce for individuals with disabilities.

Provides clarity to job seekers. By providing detailed information on required job skills, skills-based hiring removes ambiguity for a job seeker who may wonder whether they are qualified. This clarity can especially benefit literal thinkers, including individuals who are neurodivergent.

Reduces bias in the hiring process. By clearly outlining essential job qualifications and relying on competency-based assessments, skills-based hiring helps hiring managers choose candidates based on their relevant skills alone. This can reduce potential discrimination and bias in the hiring process.

Colorado’s Skills-Based Hiring Initiatives

Colorado’s Executive Order 2022-15 directs Colorado’s Division of Human Resources to develop statewide guidance and strategies for skills-based hiring through four activities:

Providing training and resources on skills-based hiring practices for human resources professionals to incorporate into selection processes.

Providing a skills-based selection plan template for agencies and using the plan in 25% of posted state vacancies by December 2022.

Partnering with the Department of Labor and Employment to integrate work-based learning models, such as apprenticeship, into skills-based hiring templates and training.

Establishing a data-driven approach to monitor, measure, and evaluate program efficacy.

The Executive Order further directs all state agencies and departments to:

Champion skill-based hiring and identify all positions in eligible for a skills-based approach.

Ensure all job postings include skills requirements as a substitute for educational requirements – except for highly specialized and professional positions – and develop processes to actively monitor compliance.

Initiate skills-based hiring discussions with agency leadership, hiring managers, and human resource teams.

Initiate training for hiring managers to implement skills-based hiring.

In addition, the Governor’s budget allocates $700,000 for staffing and related costs to support the transition to skills-based hiring. Through these funds, term-limited staff will train hiring managers, identify and update rules and regulations to facilitate skills-based hiring, and develop a skills-based hiring toolkit for state departments to use.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reports that many state agencies had already been utilizing skills-based hiring approaches before the Executive Order. According to the Department’s Executive Director Joe Barela, “We’ve seen firsthand…how skills-based hiring practices can improve our talent pool…For example, in 2020 we hired an Audit Manager who doesn’t have a college degree but rose to the top of the candidate pool based on their progressively related experience in county government…[skills-based hiring] is a step in the right direction for all state employees.”

Considerations for States

Skills-based hiring is a key strategy state governments have used to fill their workforce needs. In addition to broadening the diversity of the candidate pool and accessing more job seekers with disabilities, skills-based hiring can allow states to better select candidates who have the specific, relevant skills to excel in a role. The practice further provides states the flexibility to adapt to changes in technology and the future of work, and allows them to more easily adopt work-based learning models like apprenticeship.

Several other states have engaged in efforts to expand skills-based hiring. While not all of these efforts focus on the public sector specifically, state agencies can take advantage of these resources.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey launched the Alabama Skills-Based Job Description Generator and Employer Portal in 2022, which enables employers to create customized, skills-based job descriptions and advances the state’s efforts to develop a “skills-based, learner-centered, and employer-driven talent development system.”

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has a webpage devoted to skills-based practices resources, which includes links to a skills-based hiring toolkit and a skills-based job posting generator.

Oklahoma Works assists employers with implementing skills-based hiring practices in order to “focus on the skills needed to perform job duties” and “expand the number of qualified applicants.”

Utah HB 139 (2021) requires the Department of Human Resource Management to “create supporting materials that may be used by a political subdivision that chooses to implement competency-based hiring principles.”

CAPE-Youth Launches Long COVID Web Page

By Katherine Emerson

Current estimates show that 7.7 to 23 million people in the U.S. have experienced Long COVID or its associated conditions. The CDC defines Long COVID as anyone experiencing ongoing, long-term conditions as a result of having been infected with the COVID-19 virus. Long COVID symptoms can last weeks, months or even years. Furthermore, the symptoms of Long COVID can qualify someone as an individual with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if these symptoms substantially limit one or more major life activities, including employment and education. Youth and young adults with a Long COVID disability may need assistance understanding their disability, understanding their employment and education rights, and navigating systems of support.  

As part of our database of State Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth) is pleased to launch our Long COVID resource page. States have taken a variety of approaches to support youth experiencing a Long COVID disability (as either their first identified disability or in addition to an existing disability). The resource page supports CAPE-Youth’s overall mission to provide state policymakers with policy options, best practices, and implementation strategies to improve employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities (Y&YADs).  

 The Long COVID resource page offers: 

general information about Long COVID; 

information about Long COVID as a disability;  

potential accommodations for Y&YADs with Long COVID; 

ways to help Y&YADs manage Long COVID; 

state efforts to support Y&YADs with Long COVID; and 

nationally recognized Long COVID resources addressing accessibility, the workplace, and other services and supports.  

As states strive to promote workforce inclusion, the over three million young people between the ages of 16 to 24 with disabilities are a key part of the solution. Y&YADs face barriers in transitioning successfully from youth systems into adulthood. These barriers result in lower employment outcomes, educational attainment, and community participation than their peers. The Long COVID resource page discusses how Y&YADs might address those barriers, such as understanding and managing their disability in an educational and workplace setting, their rights and protections in those settings, and accessing appropriate supports.  

This web page also assists state leaders by highlighting how states have: 

educated the public about symptoms, causes, and treatment of Long COVID; 

provided support programs and mental health resources to help individuals; 

recognized Long COVID as a potential source of disability under the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act; and 

funded Long COVID support services. 

The complete list of information and resources also can be sorted by state and by topic. 

Workforce inclusion is a priority for state leaders nationwide. Supporting Y&YADs as they prepare to enter the workforce advances state economies and individuals’ quality of life. To learn more about CAPE-Youth and our publications, visit capeyouth.org

Ohio Expands Recovery and Employment Services for Justice-Involved Individuals with Substance Use Disorders 

By Andrew Johnson, Policy Analyst 

Substance use disorders (SUDs) are on the rise. SUD is considered a mental health disorder, and when it substantially limits one or more major life activities – such as employment – it can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act when an individual is receiving recovery treatment. Individuals with SUD may need supports recovering from SUD and attaining employment. 

Research shows that SUDs are particularly common among incarcerated individuals; an estimated 65% of the United States prison population has an active SUD. Furthermore, studies indicate that disability prevalence may be higher among the prison population, with more than 40% of incarcerated individuals reporting a nonpsychiatric disability. Incarcerated individuals may have even more difficulty accessing treatment for SUD, and those incarcerated for drug offenses are likely to be rearrested within three years. Even though employment is critical to helping formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter their community, they may face additional barriers to employment due to their criminal records. 

States are, therefore, working to support the recovery and workforce needs of incarcerated individuals with a SUD, and to ensure equal opportunity in employment. Ohio is one state that has prioritized this issue by taking executive and legislative action as well as leveraging and coordinating existing resources, including disability services and supports. 

Coordinating State Agencies through RecoveryOhio 

Governor Mike DeWine made SUD recovery support one of his top policy objectives and commissioned the RecoveryOhio initiative through Executive Order 2019-01D. The initiative coordinates the work of state agencies and builds on the state’s existing resources to support recovery needs throughout the state, including employment supports for justice-involved individuals. By ensuring employment, the individual is better positioned to obtain stable housing, gain a sense of purpose, and successfully complete their specialized court program. 

Providing Employment Supports through OOD Jobs for Recovery 

One key agency contributing to this work is Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD). OOD works with state and local organizations to support Ohioans with disabilities, including those with substance use disorders, in preparing for and securing employment. 

As part of the RecoveryOhio initiative, OOD launched the OOD Jobs for Recovery program. This program provides employment supports for individuals with SUD facing charges in the state’s drug court. OOD Jobs for Recovery partners with state agencies, such as the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Office of Workforce Transformation, to address the needs of justice-involved individuals placed on specialized dockets. Through Jobs for Recovery, OOD places a vocational rehabilitation counselor on a drug court interdisciplinary team to provide employment services and assist in supporting an individual in carrying out their recovery plan. 

OOD Jobs for Recovery vocational rehabilitation counselors assist individuals with exploring their strengths, abilities and interests to promote informed choice in identifying their employment goals. Services may include

Career exploration and guidance  


Resume and interview preparation 

Work incentives planning 

Job development and placement  

Assistance addressing additional employment barriers 

Providing Recovery Services and Removing Barriers to Employment 

For justice-involved individuals with SUD, recovery is the first step to employment. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has partnered with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to address the recovery needs of justice-involved individuals with substance use disorders. Partners provide recovery services to incarcerated individuals needing substance abuse recovery programming. Through an evidence-based holistic approach to alcohol and other drug treatment, program participants gain an improved sense of responsibility and the ability to reenter the community and workforce. Correctional recovery services are funded through the state budget.  

In addition, the Ohio legislature enacted Ohio House Bill 1 in 2021, providing additional support to state agencies seeking to provide substance abuse recovery services and employment services to justice-involved individuals. House Bill 1 modifies existing “intervention in lieu of conviction” policies by broadening the scope of recovery options. 

The bill further addresses additional barriers to employment that justice-involved individuals with SUD may face by expanding record sealing opportunities and opportunities for charge dismissal for those who complete their recovery plan. By dismissing charges and sealing records, justice involved individuals recovering from SUDs are better positioned to obtain sustainable employment.  

Considerations for States 

SUD is one aspect of mental health that states are actively addressing, particularly for individuals involved in the justice system. State officials in Ohio are leveraging available resources and establishing partnerships to address the recovery and workforce needs of justice-involved individuals with SUD. The state has also enhanced the flexibility of the judicial system to provide recovery programming to these individuals, rather than prison time, and provides vocational counseling services and job support planning to help individuals with SUD find employment. 

Various other states are also implementing policies to support recovery and employment for justice-involved individuals: 

Illinois established drug courts to provide treatment options and alternatives to incarceration. 

Maine requires a comprehensive substance use disorder treatment program (including for alcohol) in all correctional facilities. The program provides screening, assessment, and treatment for justice-involved individuals, and requires ongoing training of staff and coordination with community organizations. 

Mississippi established a pilot program at a regional facility to provide SUD treatment in an effort to reduce drug use and criminal activity and assist individuals in their transitions back into the community. 

New York provides substance abuse treatment, including medication assisted treatment, to individuals residing in correctional facilities. 

Washington expanded a pilot program to create a drug-free correctional system and provides substance use treatment to individuals found to be in possession of drugs. 

Oregon Seeks to Enhance Employment Outcomes for People with Disabilities Through Private-Sector Engagement

By Rachel Wright, Policy Analyst

Over the past 10 years, the employment rate of Oregonians with disabilities has steadily risen and remains among the highest in the nation. Research by the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows that between 2012 and 2020, the employment rate of people with disabilities in Oregon rose 2.3 percentage points. This means that more than 18,000 additional Oregonians who have a disability found and maintained employment during that period. 

Oregon’s sustained engagement with private sector businesses has contributed to the improved employment outcomes among people with disabilities. In recent years, Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) – an office within the Oregon Department of Human Services – has spearheaded numerous initiatives to build the capacity of private sector employers to engage in disability inclusion efforts. These initiatives include: 

Establishing regional workforce and business coordinators that work with the private sector to identify workforce needs and help clients with disabilities find meaningful employment in high-growth industries. Forming the Interstate Disability Employment Alliance to develop cross border employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Hosting disability etiquette training for employers that partner with Oregon VR to foster more inclusive workplace environments. 

Regional Workforce and Business Coordinators 

A 2011 study by Rutgers University found that many successful employer and market driven initiatives to recruit, hire, train and retain people with disabilities are sustained by partnerships with intermediary organizations. Oregon VR not only acts as an intermediary between persons with disabilities and employers but designates regional workforce and business coordinators to lead these efforts.  

In 2021, the Oregon Department of Human Services expanded their workforce team to include four regional workforce and business coordinators. According to Statewide Workforce and Business Coordinator Kimberly Copeland, these coordinators work with employers and workforce partners within VR’s three service regions to establish long-standing relationships and identify local workforce development needs. They also connect clients with disabilities to employment opportunities that match their skill sets and align with their career goals. 

The Interstate Disability Employment Alliance 

Each day, numerous people cross the border between Oregon and Washington for work. Recognizing this, disability service providers in both states began collaborating in 2016 to develop cross-border business engagement strategies. This collaboration was intended to support efforts by local businesses to recruit and hire people with disabilities.  

These efforts were recently solidified with the establishment of the Interstate Disability Employment Alliance. Alliance membership has evolved over time, but currently consists of the Oregon Department of Human Services, the Oregon Commission for the Blind, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services and the Washington Department of Services for the Blind.  

To help businesses build more inclusive work environments, alliance members have hosted trainings on disability etiquette and awareness for private sector employers. For example, in 2020 the alliance hosted three lunch and learn events for businesses and their employees to learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Lunch and learn topics included an overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “Disability Etiquette for Blind and Low Vision” and “Northwest ADA Center Resources.” 

Disability Etiquette and Awareness Training  

Oregon VR and the Oregon Commission for the Blind offer disability etiquette training(s) to interested businesses. These trainings teach employers about respectful communication and interaction with people who have disabilities as well as how to ensure the accessibility of physical workplaces and information and communication technology. Developing a baseline understanding of respectful communication and accessibility principles can prevent unintended exclusion of employees with disabilities in the workplace and make all employees feel welcome and fully included.  

Trainings offered by Oregon VR and the Oregon Commission for the Blind address topics such as “Identifying and Eliminating Unconscious Bias,” “Cultivating an Inclusive Culture,” “Words Matter: Let’s Talk Disability” and “Reasonable Accommodations.” Further, the Commission for the Blind provides training on topics such as assistive technology and accommodations for job seekers and employees with vision loss. 

Policy Considerations for State Leaders 

Engagement with the private sector can help states enhance employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Oregon VR has achieved this through initiatives that identify the workforce needs of the private sector, connect job seekers to businesses to fill those needs and enhance disability awareness in the workplace. Additional policy considerations for state leaders to support the private sector in disability employment efforts include: 

Extending diversity and inclusion initiatives to businesses contracting with state agencies. 

States can consider extending diversity and inclusion policies for state government contractors. This can include requirements to prepare affirmative action plans that incorporate individuals with disabilities in an analysis of barriers, workforce utilization, goals and progress reports. Colorado (House Bill 1065, 2021) Massachusetts (House Bill 4569, 2016) and Tennessee (House Bill 0165, 2017) have enacted affirmative action legislation regarding people with disabilities.  

Using tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire qualified candidates with disabilities. 

States can adopt tax incentive policies to encourage private sector business to hire qualified candidates with disabilities. Delaware (Title 30 §20B-102) provides a tax credit to employers in the state that hire people with disabilities referred by the state vocational rehabilitation agency. The tax credit is equal to 10 percent of the employee’s gross wages (not to exceed $1,500) paid by the qualified employer throughout that employee’s sustained employment during the taxable year. The Maryland Disability Employment Tax Credit allows employers to claim an amount equal to 30 percent of up to the first $9,000 of wages paid during the first and second years of employment.  

Offering tax credits for providing employment supports and accessibility. 

States may also provide tax credits for employment supports such as physical building barrier removal, workplace accommodations, information and communication technology, childcare and transportation. Arizona enacted House Bill 2214 (2017) allowing for the subtraction of eligible “business access expenditures” paid or incurred by a taxpayer in the retrofitting of real property to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the Maryland Disability Employment Tax Credit, employers can claim $900 per year against transportation or child care costs for each qualifying employee during the first two years of employment. 

Additional examples of how states are engaging the private sector in hiring and supporting people with disabilities can be found here.  

New CSG Report and Upcoming Webinar: The State as a Model Employer of People with Disabilities

The Council of State Governments will host a webinar entitled “Inclusion Works: Strategies for Establishing States as Model Employers of People with Disabilities” on October 27, 2022 from 3:00 – 4:30 pm ET. This webinar will highlight innovative state policies and practices aimed at increasing the employment of people with disabilities in the public sector. These policies include

Extending diversity and inclusion initiatives.Developing comprehensive, government-wide strategic plans.Instituting fast-track and other hiring systems to facilitate employment.Enacting advancement and retention practices.Ensuring accessibility of information and communication technology.Ensuring availability of personal assistance services.Developing disability awareness training for state personnel.

Speakers will discuss the state as a model employer policies and practices in their local context and the impact of these policies on public sector employment of people with disabilities. Speakers include:

Elizabeth Gordon – Executive Director of the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, WashingtonRepresentative Camille Lilly – Illinois General AssemblyRepresentative Naquetta Ricks – Colorado General AssemblyRepresentative Catherine Abercrombie – Connecticut House of Representatives

A 10-minute Q&A session will follow speaker presentations.

Register for here for the webinar “Inclusion Works: Strategies for Establishing States as Model Employers of People with Disabilities”Read “The State as a Model Employer of People with Disabilities: Policies and Practices for State Leaders” [PDF]

Employment Transition Services for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities: The Ohio College2Careers Program 

By Katherine Emerson, Roosevelt Fellow

Youth and young adults with disabilities are employed at lower rates than their peers without disabilities. College is one pathway that can help students with disabilities prepare for employment. Individuals with disabilities who complete some college or earn an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree are employed at higher rates than individuals who do not.  

However, fewer than 35% of students with disabilities graduate from four-year institutions within eight years. College students with disabilities could therefore benefit from additional supports and services to succeed in college and prepare for their careers. Ohio’s College2Careers program is a state initiative focused on providing supports to help students with disabilities succeed in college and beyond. 

Establishment and Funding 

College2Careers is a state-wide program that supports students with disabilities at colleges and universities in Ohio to help them complete their degree and/or credential, earn higher wages, and meet the demands of the labor market. The program was created and funded by Gov. Mike DeWine’s Executive Budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 through the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) agency as part of a larger effort to support Executive Order 2019-3D. The financial support is meant to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities by providing personal assistance services, particularly for transitional youth, to “encourage and support individuals with disabilities to fully participate in the social and economic life of Ohio and engage in competitive integrated employment.” This formal mechanism established Ohio as a state as a model employer and prepared College2Careers is a state-wide program that places individuals in career pathways.  

The College2Careers program is operated by the Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD). Susan Pugh, deputy director of the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation at OOD, explains that the Ohio College2Careers program achieves this by “embed[ding] a vocational rehabilitation counselor into the disability services or the career services” at participating colleges and universities. The program is currently offered at 17 campuses, two of which are the state’s only historically black colleges and universities. 

Program Components 

As of 2022, the College2Careers program serves approximately 1,500 college students and addresses the following topics through activities, workshops, help sessions and networking facilitated by a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor: 

Career exploration and counseling. Assistive technology. Resume and interview preparation. Internships and permanent employment placement. Assistance navigating OhioMeansJobs resources. 

Connection to an expansive employer partner network. On-the-job supports for permanent employment upon graduation. 

According to Marcia Ballinger, PhD and President of Lorain County Community College, the program “add[s] to the base of support already in place…and provide[s] the added targeted help [students with disabilities] need to finish a credential or degree that leads to meaningful employment.”  

Two career development specialists from OOD also work with the disability and career offices at participating institutions to facilitate the hiring of students with disabilities in internships and potential permanent placements. The vocational rehabilitation counselor at each college campus can obtain further resources to ensure the academic and vocational success of students. In the words of President of Central Ohio Technical College John M. Berry, PhD, “the OOD counselor we have on-site helps with everything from career counseling to placement services. She works with our students to make sure they are making progress toward their employment goals.”   

Other State Examples 

Ohio’s College2Careers program is just one example of a state initiative to better support college students with disabilities in their transitions to the workforce. 

California Assembly Bill 504 requires community colleges to develop student equity plans that must identify underrepresentation for specific categories of students (including those with disabilities) in access to, and completion of, basic skills, career technical education and workforce training. In Delaware, Supported Education at the Delaware Technical & Community College Program is a collaboration between the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Delaware Technical & Community College. The program supports students in their coursework while they also enroll in a certificate program or enter a skills training program and gain employment in an area of interest to the student. 

The Puerto Rico Vocational Rehabilitation Administration places counselors in the facilities of the Río Piedras and Mayagüez campuses of the University of Puerto Rico to provide services to eligible students. 

As illustrated in these examples, states can take various approaches to supporting college students with disabilities. Ohio and Puerto Rico have taken the approach of placing counselors at colleges and universities to support students, whereas Delaware offers an intensive year-one program and California requires community colleges to assess and improve equity. Localized vocational supports, such as those in Ohio, Delaware, and Puerto Rico, work with students directly to place them on career pathways. These approaches are personalized and utilize connections between students, vocational rehabilitation staff and businesses. Policy changes such as the legislation enacted in California allow for broader changes to college climates and practices. 

Colorado Enhances Equity, Diversity and Inclusion within State Government, Including for Individuals with Disabilities

By Elise Gurney, Project Manager 

States are increasingly engaging in State as Model Employer (SAME) initiatives to increase employment rates for people with disabilities. These efforts are designed to increase the recruitment, hiring, advancement, retention and inclusion of people with disabilities in the state government workforce. SAME initiatives also position the state as an example for private sector employers to model. 

Colorado is one state that has engaged in particularly robust SAME efforts, including through Executive Order 2020-175, issued by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in 2020. Through the Executive Order and other initiatives, Colorado has sought to create more inclusive workplace cultures and practices within state government, enhance the accessibility of state buildings and technology infrastructure and increase the number of people with disabilities employed in state government. 

Executive Order 2020-175 

Executive Order 2020-175 is designed to increase equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within Colorado state government. While some SAME initiatives focus on advancing opportunities for people with disabilities specifically, Colorado’s Executive Order considers disability as one facet of diversity, along with gender, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status, education, socioeconomic status “or any other identity.” 

The order directs the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration (DPA) to take several actions to enhance EDI efforts within state government, including: 

Developing an EDI Universal Policy to guide state agencies in creating long-term strategic plans for establishing inclusive, anti-discriminatory workplace cultures and implementing equitable hiring, compensation and retention practices.  Developing and delivering EDI trainings for all state employees, including separate trainings for supervisors and executive leaders.  

Developing a template and procedure for state agencies to report progress on their EDI initiatives. Creating statewide standards of accessibility for buildings, systems, communication and technology tools and other resources, at or above those required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Guiding agencies in addressing systemic inequities in procurement. 

The order further directs individual state agencies, in coordination with DPA, to “operationalize equity in systems, policies, and practices.” This includes cooperating with DPA’s efforts, as well as: 

Supporting internal educational training on equity-related topics. Designating staff to coordinate and lead EDI activities, as needed. Involving community members in decision-making from the beginning to end of projects. Engaging in cabinet-level conversations about systemic inequities. Engaging with the Office of State Planning and Budgeting to budget for EDI actions in future fiscal years.   

Colorado has already made significant progress in achieving these goals. DPA created EDI hiring guides for all agencies, which addressed topics like interviewing and selection. DPA also delivered introductory EDI trainings to state employees throughout 2021. By the end of the year, 89% of state employees had completed all four training modules. The state has further imbedded EDI training in the state’s supervisor training certificate program and has developed agency-specific EDI strategic plans and reports. As a result of these efforts, awareness of EDI among state employees has increased dramatically. In employee engagement surveys in 2022, 80% of employees reported awareness of EDI, up from 30% in 2019. 

Colorado’s Other State as Model Employer Initiatives 

Executive Order 2020-175 represents one component of Colorado’s ongoing efforts to be a model employer of people with disabilities. Colorado previously created the state employment program for persons with developmental disabilities to coordinate hiring people with developmental disabilities into appropriate and meaningful state employment opportunities. The state has also passed three relevant bills following the Executive Order: 

Senate Bill 21-095 creates a hiring preference pilot program for persons with disabilities to encourage state agencies to increase the number of employed people with disabilities and improve the state’s practices on recruiting and hiring. House Bill 21-1110 requires the Chief Information Officer in the Office of Information Technology to promote and monitor the access standards for individuals with disabilities in the state’s information technology infrastructure. House Bill 22-1397 creates a Statewide Equity Office within the Department of Personnel and Administration, to provide best practices, resources and guidance for state agencies in offering equitable services to the residents of Colorado and providing an accepting and diverse environment for state employees. 

The impact of these efforts can be far-reaching. Colorado is one of the largest employers in the state, with over 100,000 employees. Changes in state government hiring and employment practices can therefore impact a substantial number of people. The state’s SAME efforts have also allowed it to model inclusive practices, and develop insight and expertise, to support and encourage the private sector in its own EDI initiatives. 

Colorado’s efforts represent one particularly comprehensive approach to increasing the hiring, retention and advancement of people with disabilities within state government. Through Executive Orders and legislation, the state has sought to improve workplace culture; staff awareness and attitudes; hiring, compensation and retention practices; and physical and technological accessibility. The report State as a Model Employer of People with Disabilities provides more examples of state SAME initiatives. 

Celebrating Disability Employment as a Key Component of a Diverse and Equitable Workforce

By Dominique DiSpirito and Abeer Sikder

Each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) celebrates the contributions workers with disabilities make to building a vibrant, resilient workforce. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) selects a theme for the month and shares resources for employers, policymakers and other workforce stakeholders. The theme this year, “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation,” recognizes “the vital role people with disabilities play in making the nation’s workforce diverse and inclusive.” The theme also highlights the intersectionality of disability with other systemic inequalities, such as racial and gender discrimination.

This year’s theme aligns with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Equity Action Plan that U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh released in April. The Equity Action Plan contains several important steps to realize the vision the White House laid out in Executive Order 13985 on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities. The plan promotes positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities by expanding access to apprenticeships for diverse constituents and improving the unemployment insurance system. Together, the Equity Action Plan and the 2022 NDEAM theme create an opportunity for stakeholders from every level of the workforce system to increase diversity, equity and inclusion to reduce employment barriers for traditionally underserved communities and increase employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

States are strengthening workplace protections, creating new employment preparation supports for youth with disabilities and engaging people with disabilities and other intersecting identities in employment conversations—all with the goal of improving workforce participation for people with disabilities, including youth and young adults from underserved communities.

The California Employment Development Department operates a Youth Employment Opportunity Program that provides employment services to at-risk youth, such as youth with disabilities. These services include career counseling, peer advising and employment preparation.The New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Planning Council established a task force led by young adults with disabilities and other community stakeholders. The task force aims to develop and implement strategies that improve the school-to-work transition. Furthermore, the task force emphasizes improving employment outcomes for people with intersecting identities.The Rhode Island legislature recently joined several other states in passing a pay equity bill that takes effect in 2023. The legislation implements several protections to prevent employers from adjusting wages based on disability, gender, country of origin or any other protected class. The bill requires employers to show that existing employee pay differences are solely based on a narrow set of criteria, such as seniority, education or experience. Pay equity can improve workforces by attracting diverse talent and reducing employee turnover.

NDEAM is an annual opportunity to increase workforce participation rates and highlight the unique strengths, challenges and contributions of the disability community. The 2022 theme notes the importance of increasing access to employment for people with intersecting social identities, including youth and young adults with disabilities. As Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy Taryn M. Williams put it, “A strong workforce is the sum of many parts, and disability has always been a key part of the equation. People with disabilities make up a wonderfully multifaceted group. By recognizing the full complexion of our community, we can ensure our efforts to achieve disability inclusion are, in fact, truly inclusive.”

#NDEAM #DisabilityEmployment #Equity

Oregon Combines General Funds and ARPA Funds to Support People with Disabilities: The Future Ready Oregon Initiative 

By Rachel Wright, Policy Analyst

The social and economic disruptions caused by the pandemic have highlighted significant disparities in how the workforce system serves marginalized groups such as people with disabilities, communities of color and people with low incomes. People with disabilities have remained engaged in the labor market throughout the pandemic and their labor force participation rate has not dropped appreciably. However, studies show that people with disabilities have experienced high percentages of employment changes and disruption (e.g., decreased pay, reduced work hours). 

As communities emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, access to skills training and postsecondary credentials will be critical to facilitating an inclusive recovery. Recognizing this, Oregon Governor Kate Brown convened the Workforce and Talent Development Board and the Racial Justice Council in 2021. The Workforce Workgroup – as the collaboration came to be known – sought to develop a proposal for the 2022 legislative session that advanced equitable and racially just economic opportunity and education recovery. 

The Future Ready Oregon Initiative – $200 Million in Workforce Investments 

The efforts of the Governor’s Workforce Workgroup culminated in the Future Ready Oregon Initiative (Senate Bill 1545). The initiative was approved by the legislature and signed into law in April of 2022. It includes $200 million in funding to support comprehensive workforce investments aimed at advancing an equitable workforce system that better serves people of color, people with disabilities, people with low incomes, rural Oregonians, and other underserved populations.  

The Future Ready Oregon initiative is funded through a combination of state and federal resources. State general funds were supplemented by American Rescue Plan Act dollars to expand existing successful workforce programs and create new, innovative workforce programs. Funded programs provide historically underserved groups with the education, training and resources they need to attain “family-wage careers.” The initiative includes people with disabilities among its listed priority groups. Provided below are programs funded by Future Ready Oregon that support people with disabilities. 

Local Workforce Boards – $37 Million for the Prosperity 10,000 Program 

Future Ready Oregon invests approximately $37 million in Oregon’s nine local workforce development boards to administer the Prosperity 10,000 Program. This program was established by House Bill 4104 (2022) and is intended to augment the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) Employment and Training program.  

The Prosperity 10,000 program is designed to serve at least 10,000 low-income job seekers most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including Oregonians who receive SNAP or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. According to a 2020 survey conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities adults with a disability were more than twice as likely to report difficulty paying for usual expenses (e.g., food, rent or medical bills) than adults without a disability. In addition, approximately 22% of SNAP recipients in Oregon are “non-elderly disabled” individuals. 

The Prosperity 10,000 program will provide qualifying individuals with career coaching, occupational training and job placement services. Further, the program seeks to ensure that historically underserved populations, including people with disabilities, successfully complete the program. To facilitate this, priority populations can receive:  

Wraparound supports and services that help facilitate reengagement with the workforce, including, but not limited to transportation, childcare and rental assistance. Paid work experiences, including stipends, wages and other supports. 

Targeted recruitment and engagement efforts. 

Grants to Local Workforce Development Boards – $10 Million for Benefits Navigators 

The Future Ready Oregon initiative sets aside $10 million in grants to be awarded to local workforce development boards for the placement of workforce benefits navigators in WorkSource Oregon centers and community-based organizations. WorkSource Oregon is a free, one-stop career center for people with disabilities, veterans and people who are unemployed. Workforce benefits navigators will help priority populations, including people with disabilities, access workforce programs and apply for benefits and services that are available under these programs.  

Workforce benefits navigators have already been placed at Oregon community colleges through House Bill 2835 (2021). Benefits navigators have helped students access SNAP food benefits, the SNAP employment and training program, housing assistance and other basic resources. According to Chemeketa Community College President Jessica Howard, workforce benefits navigators are a key strategy “to create an equitable recovery from the recent recession, particularly for Oregonians from rural, racially diverse, and economically challenged communities.” 

Oregon Colleges and Universities – $10 Million to “Scale Up” Credit for Prior Learning 

An additional $10 million in funds were allocated to scale up Credit for Prior Learning (CPL). CPL, as defined in Oregon House Bill 4059 (2012), refers to the “knowledge and skills gained through work and life experience…military training… and through formal and informal education and training from institutions of higher education.” The allocated funds are intended to scale up CPL by helping public institutions develop methods and refine processes for rewarding prior learning.  

CPL can be an important steppingstone toward a college degree for individuals with disabilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that approximately 70% of people with no disability complete some college or earn an associate degree compared to 21% of people with a disability. Awarding credit for prior learning experiences can help close this gap by providing additional avenues through which students can fulfill their degree requirements. 

Assessment and Accountability – $1.5 Million to Measure Impacts  

To gauge the impacts of these investments, Senate Bill 1545 provides $1.5 million for assessment and accountability activities. This funding is intended to enhance the capacity of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to collect, integrate, analyze and report on key data. The Higher Education Coordinating Commission is tasked with reporting to the Oregon Workforce Talent Development Board, the legislature and the governor’s office on the state’s progress toward meeting key milestones and implementing plans for continuous improvement. 

As state and local economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, policy makers can address employment barriers experienced by people with disabilities through instituting inclusive workforce development policies and programs. A recent CSG report developed in collaboration with the State Exchange on Employment & Disability titled Facilitating a Safe and Inclusive Return to the Workplace: COVID-19 Policies and Guidance provides policymakers with policy considerations on this topic. For further resources and information on building a stronger, more inclusive workforce, please reach out to the disability employment policy team at CSG.