Indiana Leverages ARPA Funding to Advance Competitive Integrated Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

By Enmanuel Gomez Antolinez and Elise Gurney 

States are increasingly leading a transition away from sheltered workshops – where businesses employ people with disabilities at less than minimum wage and in settings that primarily or exclusively employ individuals with disabilities – and toward competitive integrated employment (CIE). While thirteen states have passed legislation to eliminate subminimum wages, Indiana is taking a unique approach by leveraging American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to transition employers away from sheltered workshops and advance CIE. The goal is to increase CIE for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the state from 23% to 38% by 2027. This equates to a 68% increase in the number of individuals with IDD in the state employed in CIE by 2027. 

Indiana’s Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services (DDRS) has used ARPA funding to support the transition away from sheltered work and advance CIE outcomes through three main strategies: 

Assessing and redesigning DDRS policies, procedures, systems and services to better support CIE; 

Supporting and encouraging providers to transition away from sheltered work to CIE; and 

Facilitating statewide transformations to enhance CIE outcomes. 

Assessing and Redesigning DDRS Policies, Procedures, Systems and Services 

DDRS has utilized ARPA funding to broadly reassess and redesign elements of its current operations to better support CIE. To do so, it has partnered with the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services’ Supported Employment Leadership Network, which has helped DDRS facilitate self-assessment and revision of DDRS systems, services and supports for CIE. Assessment and redesign efforts include:   

Redesigning waiver services and supports to encourage, facilitate and maintain CIE. DDRS identified significant support needs gaps not covered by its existing prevocational operations (sheltered work), ongoing job supports and workplace personal care attendant services. It is therefore redesigning the state’s 1915c Medicaid waivers for individuals with disabilities to establish a wider, more flexible array of employment services (such as career exploration, benefits counseling, job development and other employment supports) and refocusing existing services to better support an individual’s CIE goals. 

Developing policies and procedures to support coordination across DDRS. DDRS has three Bureaus that serve individuals with disabilities and their families throughout an individual’s life. Due to distinct federal program rules and oversight, these three Bureaus have historically worked in isolation. DDRS is working to align services and employment supports across the Bureaus so that consumers have a seamless point of entry and experience across DDRS and so that Bureaus can better coordinate program support and braided funding for CIE. 

Developing and refining IT systems to improve customers’ ability to drive and engage in CIE services and supports. This aligns with broader DDRS efforts to make the individual the primary driver of their services and supports. To accomplish this, DDRS engaged in a multi-year-project to consolidate their current IT systems into a portal that allows state personnel, independent case managers and providers and eventually individuals to access, provide input and share information regarding the individual’s trajectory plan, services and support system. The final version of the portal will allow individuals to access their records and take ownership of their services and supports. 

Developing a reimbursement system that incentivizes a team approach and rewards CIE outcomes. DDRS believes meaningful advancement of statewide CIE goals will only be realized when all parts of the system understand their roles and commit to shared responsibility in supporting CIE outcomes. To that end, DDRS is planning a systematic review of state policy to incentivize providers supporting these shared outcomes. This means revising provider expectations on collaborating with other service system providers and state program personnel when providing and planning service delivery to individuals. It also means evaluating the need for targeted incentives in current Home- and Community-Based Services waivers and Vocational Rehabilitation reimbursement structures and exploring value-based payment methodologies to drive focus on CIE outcomes.   

Supporting and Encouraging Providers to Transition to CIE 

In Indiana, 37 employment providers hold 14(c) certificates in sheltered workshop settings. To support these providers in transitioning away from sheltered work and in expanding their capacity to provide customized CIE services and supports, DDRS launched two two-year collaboratives in July 2022. 

The first collaborative is designed to support providers who currently operate a sheltered work program in the transition to CIE, whereas the second is designed to support improved CIE services for providers that transitioned away from a sheltered work model within the last 24 months.  

A variety of resources and supports are made available to providers throughout the two-year period to transform their business operations and/or enhance their capacity to support CIE. This includes: 

Virtual and in-person trainings from national experts;  

Technical assistance; and  

Opportunities to receive peer mentorship and learn from one another. 

Providers also receive a $50,000 stipend per year of full participation in the collaborative. Finally, collaborative participants are eligible to apply for a transformation grant of up to $400,000 to support their movement away from a sheltered work model and to develop innovative strategies to support CIE outcomes. 

Strategies for supporting the transition to and improvement of CIE services include: 

Engaging in a value stream mapping process, which helps providers identify what customers want and need and helps streamline processes to create a flexible, person-centered CIE service system; 

Developing a roadmap and setting goals to transform services within three to five years; 

Establishing partnerships with families to smooth the employment process and improve outcomes, including by raising family expectations that CIE is possible; and 

Engaging employers in informational interviews to create a pipeline of CIE opportunities. 

Facilitating Statewide Transformations to Enhance CIE Outcomes 

Finally, DDRS has effectively engaged leaders and entities across Indiana to more broadly impact attitudes and systems relating to sheltered work and CIE. This includes: 

Hosting an annual Employment Summit for leaders across agencies and systems to focus on improving CIE outcomes for individuals with disabilities; 

Engaging the Indiana Department of Education and school systems to change the narrative and expectations regarding post-secondary pathways for individuals with disabilities; and 

Collaborating with other entities – such as the Indiana Department of Workforce Development and advocacy organizations – to improve CIE outcomes for individuals with disabilities. 

Other State Approaches to Eliminating Sheltered Workshops 

Indiana is unique in using ARPA funds to transition away from sheltered work (though other states are also including people with disabilities in their ARPA-funded economic recovery efforts). Other states have eliminated subminimum wage and sheltered workshops through legislation, regulations and Executive Orders. For example: 

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development adopted regulations in 2018 repealing authority to pay subminimum wages for workers with disabilities. 

Hawaii enacted Senate Bill 793 in 2021, which repeals the exemption from the minimum wage requirement for persons with disabilities. 

Illinois Governor Pritzker issued Executive Order No. 2021-26 in 2021, which specifies that all current and future State Use program contracts must provide for payment of no less than minimum wage for all employees performing work on the contract. 

For more information about Indiana’s allocation of ARPA funds, please visit: https://www.in.gov/ocra/ARPA/#:~:text=The%20American%20Rescue%20Plan%20Act,billion%20given%20to%20Indiana’s%20communities

This publication was funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor through the State Exchange on Employment & Disability. This document, and any other organization’s linked webpages or documents, do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. 

Mental Health Matters: A Series of National Online Dialogues on Workforce Mental Health Policies

By Elise Gurney

The State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED), a U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) initiative, launched a series of four online dialogues to explore and advance workforce mental health policies. Through April 3, you are invited to join these conversations by submitting ideas, as well as commenting and voting on ideas submitted by others, on four priority topic areas:

Benefits policies that meet the needs of those with mental health conditions.

Access to workplace care and supports for those with mental health conditions and reducing associated social stigmas.

Mental health provider and service disparities in underserved communities.

Behavioral health workforce shortages and the establishment of state resource systems.

These online public engagement events will build upon and inform the work of the Mental Health Matters: National Task Force on Workforce Mental Health Policy, convened by SEED, to develop resources and policy frameworks that effectively support workers’ mental health needs and bolster the behavioral health care work force. To learn more about the dialogues and participate in the event, visit https://ePolicyWorks.com/MentalHealthMatters/.

Arkansas Pilots State as a Model Employer Policies within Individual State Agencies

By Sean Slone, Senior Policy Analyst

State as a Model Employer (SAME) initiatives refer to policies and practices states engage in to increase the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of people with disabilities within state government. SAME efforts allow states to advance their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and serve as examples for private sector employers to follow. While 20 states and Washington D.C. have adopted SAME policies statewide, other states have focused on efforts within specific state agencies. One such state is Arkansas.

As a 2020 equal employment opportunity report to the state legislature demonstrates, Arkansas state government and multiple state agencies have supported SAME policies and concepts, although no formal statewide efforts have yet emerged. Nevertheless, the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) moved forward in 2022 to pursue a SAME effort on its own. According to Jonathan Taylor, Executive Director of the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, DFA has established an initial goal that 10% of its employees will be people with disabilities and is reevaluating and modifying its hiring processes to meet that goal. If successful, the department’s efforts could be something other agencies emulate, including those that have struggled to implement such policies in the past.

Strategies to Increase Employment of People with Disabilities within DFA

DFA’s Diversity and Inclusion team has agreed to four specific steps designed to make hiring processes more inclusive and help DFA reach its 10% goal.

(1) Accessible Job Descriptions

DFA is conducting a full accessibility review of job descriptions. This includes looking at language in entry-level state government job descriptions that indicate a successful candidate must have a certain number of years of job experience, which might dissuade literal thinkers – including individuals on the autism spectrum – from applying. DFA will instead adjust job descriptions to consider and give weight to academic and volunteer experience.

To be inclusive, job descriptions can also clearly indicate the essential functions, knowledge and skills, and physical requirements of a job, to help people with disabilities understand whether they are able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodations. The Job Accommodation Network provides additional strategies for developing an inclusive job description.

(2) Inclusive Interview Questions and Evaluations

Arkansas officials convened a working group to talk about how traditional interview questions and evaluation criteria can put people with disabilities at a disadvantage.

For example, questions about abstract concepts can present challenges for literal thinkers, including those with autism spectrum disorder. The Job Accommodation Network instead recommends that questions focus on the applicant’s specific abilities, achievements, and qualities.

Similarly, traditional evaluation criteria may discriminate against individuals with certain disabilities. For example, traditional methods of assessing an applicant’s communication skills – such as based on smoothness of speech – may discriminate against people with speech impediments or ADHD.

While each office within DFA will continue to use its own interview questions, a guide on inclusive interviewing will be provided to department hiring managers. This can address the way interview questions are worded and how applicants are evaluated, to avoid discriminating against job applicants with disabilities.

(3) Hiring Etiquette Training for Staff

Arkansas Rehabilitation Services and Disability Rights Arkansas will conduct a disability etiquette training with the Diversity and Inclusion team at DFA, then expand to other agencies. These trainings will allow hiring managers, supervisors and others to learn about and incorporate policies and procedures to create a more inclusive application, interview and hiring process for individuals with disabilities. Arkansas will incorporate the perspectives of people with disabilities to inform the trainings.

Etiquette trainings can help remove bias in the interview process, by helping staff understand how to interpret certain behaviors. “Most interviewers have been conditioned that if you don’t make eye contact, you’re clearly not interested,” says Taylor. “People with autism often don’t make eye contact. Eye contact is an old paradigm; the new paradigm is [figuring out what] connectivity looks like.”

(4) Preferential Interviewing

DFA uses a point scale in the interview process, and currently veterans receive “bonus points.” Applicants with disclosed disabilities would also receive bonus points under the plan. Preferred interviewing for applicants who disclose a disability is already part of the application process in Arkansas, but the new point scale will allow the department to further prioritize individuals with disabilities in the hiring process.

According to Taylor, DFA’s inclusive hiring initiatives will benefit the department with reduced attrition; a dedicated staffing pipeline; and improved diversity, equity, and inclusion within the agency. In addition, the policies being piloted to hire people with disabilities can be applied to other underrepresented groups. Finally, the initiatives would standardize onboarding processes and establish best practices for all department agencies.

Considerations for States

Other states have taken similar approaches to develop inclusive and accessible hiring practices and to generally become model employers of people with disabilities.

Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, and New Jersey have established and pursued goals for increasing the number of people with disabilities employed in state government.

Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Utah, and Virginia have established hiring preferences for people with disabilities.

Kentucky, Maryland,and Vermont have adopted a mandatory interview option for qualified individuals with disabilities.

Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio have enacted legislation to provide disability training to public and private sector employers.

For more on state as a model employer policies and practices, The Council of State Governments and the State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED) have published a report titled “The State as a Model Employer of People with Disabilities: Policies and Practices for State Leaders,” which includes policy options and state examples from around the country. The SEED website includes a policy curriculum page on SAME.

In addition, states are invited to participate in a new community of practice (CoP) focused on State as a Model Employer initiatives. The CoP meets monthly and includes participants from vocational rehabilitation and other agencies across multiple states, including Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, and South Carolina. SAME leaders have expressed a desire to learn best practices from other states in order to better serve individuals with disabilities. The CoP facilitates this exchange, and brings in subject matter experts, to help each state become an employer of choice for individuals with disabilities. For more information about this initiative, contact [email protected].

Arkansas Looks to Broadband, New Partners to Tackle Rural-Urban Divide in Disability Service Delivery

By Sean Slone, Senior Policy Analyst

Nearly 50 million Americans live in rural areas, where the percentage of people reporting disabilities is highest (17.8%, compared to 12.1% for metropolitan counties). Yet despite the high rate of disability in rural areas, people with disabilities can face significant barriers accessing services and supports, including employment supports. Challenges include long waitlists for Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services, limited employment options, and lack of transportation and/or broadband to access training and employment opportunities.

Arkansas is one state that has sought to address the challenges faced by people with disabilities living in rural areas and better connect them to employment services, supports, and opportunities. Strategies include expanding broadband access in rural areas, delivering VR services remotely, and leveraging statewide and community partners to better reach individuals with disabilities living in rural areas.

Employment Barriers for People with Disabilities in Rural Areas in Arkansas

A 2021 profile by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture identifies Arkansas as one of the most rural states in the country; forty-one percent of Arkansas’ population lives in rural areas, compared with 14% of the U.S. population. According to Jonathan Taylor, Executive Director of the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, Arkansans with disabilities living in rural areas can face significant barriers to employment in the state. Many experience a four-to-six-month wait to receive VR services, which help them prepare for and attain employment. Once an individual is able to work with a VR client manager, they then struggle finding employment opportunities.

“There are large pockets of the state where in your community, the only employers may be a gas station, a convenience store or a Dollar General,” Taylor said. “In those environments with very low staff, it can be very difficult for somebody with an intellectual or developmental disability to find an environment where they can thrive.”

In addition, there may be limited opportunities for remote work, due to the lack of broadband internet in the state. According to the Federal Communications Commission, only 60% of Arkansans in rural counties live in areas with internet that meets a benchmark download/upload speed. “There are parts of Arkansas where you literally hear that old school dial tone, because that’s all you can get—dial-up [internet]—and it’s unbelievably slow,” said Taylor.

Expanding Broadband and Remote Services and Opportunities

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson devoted significant resources to expanding broadband access in the state. In 2019, he issued a state broadband plan and created a state broadband office that has awarded nearly $400 million in grants to connect rural parts of the state, utilizing federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and other sources. He also worked with the legislature to commission a study of households underserved by broadband.

In addition to connecting individuals with disabilities in rural areas to remote work opportunities, expanded broadband can help them better access VR services. Taylor said the state’s VR agency, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS), was able to pivot effectively to providing virtual client management during the pandemic. Taylor feels that more virtual interface options for people with disabilities in rural Arkansas can go a long way in solving both their transportation and service delivery challenges. ARS is expected to upgrade its website in 2023 to provide more options for virtual service delivery.

Working With Other Partners to Reach Rural Communities

In their efforts to provide employment supports and services to more people with disabilities in rural areas, state agencies in Arkansas have started to collaborate and blend and braid funding to expand their collective reach. This includes collaboration between ARS and the state’s Provider-Led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity (PASSE) program, which serves Medicaid clients with complex behavioral health, developmental, or intellectual disabilities. ARS is able to share funding with the PASSEs to reach more rural pockets of the state with Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), which provide students with disabilities the opportunity to prepare for and explore the world of work. The sharing arrangement allows ARS, which can offer services in only a limited number of high schools in the state, to extend its reach to serve more people.

Similarly, ARS is working with Easter Seals Arkansas to extend Pre-ETS to rural areas through its SET for Success program in several central Arkansas school districts. As part of the program, trained professionals work with students to help them navigate the post-high school transition period with workplace readiness training, work-based learning experiences, and other initiatives.

Additional Proposed Strategies

State officials see promise in two other strategies to extend service delivery to people with disabilities living in rural areas: engaging people with disabilities directly to better understand their needs and connect them to each other, and collaborating with non-traditional partners such as churches and faith communities to better reach those with disabilities. 

Taylor said the Arkansas State Rehabilitation Council has started to engage people with disabilities at a high level to talk about the accessibility of ARS offices and services. However, they’re now considering a more concerted effort to build networks within and among smaller rural communities and to connect the individuals who could benefit from services to each other.

As for faith communities, Taylor believes they could be an answer to helping overcome mistrust of government services in some communities.

“There are more churches than anything else, particularly in the smaller communities,” said Taylor. “I certainly see that as key [to reaching individuals with disabilities in rural areas].”

Considerations for States

Other states have also launched initiatives to help deliver employment and related services to people with disabilities in rural areas.

Colorado Senate Bill 17-011 (2017) created a technical demonstration forum to study solutions to improve transportation access for people with disabilities, including those living in rural areas of the state, with an emphasis on providing adequate access to geographically dispersed jobs.

Hawaii Senate Bill 892 (2015)makes appropriations to expand broadband access, in part to “empower people with disabilities and remov[e] barriers that keep them from participating in everyday activities.”

In Idaho, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has collaborated with libraries to establish information and referral procedures for serving individuals with disabilities in rural communities, where VR lacks a physical presence.

From 2015-2017, Montana Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services contracted with the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at the University of Montana to provide Pre-ETS to students with disabilities.

In July 2020, the Tennessee Department of Human Services published a best practice guide to delivering Pre-ETS virtually. It includes practices for partnering with local education agencies, which can aid in delivering virtual services to those in rural areas.

Wyoming addresses rural transportation access needs for workers with disabilities through regional transportation voucher programs operated by Wyoming independent living centers, Wyoming Independent Living Rehabilitation and Wyoming Services for Independent Living, with funding support from state government.

Black History Month: An Interview with Justin Tapp

By: Justin Tapp, Guest Contributor and Abeer Sikder, Policy Analyst

In honor of Black History Month, The Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth) recently discussed intersectionality and disability employment with Justin Tapp, graduate student and disability leader.

Youth and young adults with disabilities (Y&YADs) are a diverse community, in terms of not only disability type, but also race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status. While Y&YADs face barriers to education, training and employment, those who have intersectional identities may face additional challenges. For example, the jobless rate for Black Americans with disabilities (15.1 percent) in 2021 was higher than the rates for other racial minority groups. Yet Black Y&YADs and other Y&YADs with overlapping identities can also leverage their unique perspectives, strengths and support systems to address these challenges and promote greater inclusion in the workforce, across multiple factors.

Justin Tapp, who was born with Klippel-Feil syndrome and scoliosis, is an individual doing just that. Justin identifies as African American, LGBTQ+ and disabled. He earned a bachelor’s degree in disability studies and political science from the University of Toledo and is currently working toward a master’s degree in science in social administration from Case Western Reserve University. Previously, Justin was a 2019 Policy Fellow at RespectAbility and worked as a Learning Disability Specialist in higher education before taking on his current role at a community health organization.

Recently, Justin discussed his experiences in disability studies, self-advocacy and networking, as well as his thoughts on effective policy for supporting the success of future generations of diverse Y&YADs.

Disability Studies

“I recommend disability studies for a lot of people who have disabilities; it gives you time to self-reflect and analyze how you exist within your environment.”

Justin explains his degree in disability studies “was a theoretical framework of understanding what disability meant” using an intersectional approach that examines disability through medical, social, historical and even cultural viewpoints, such as how it is portrayed in the media.

Justin emphasizes that disability studies programs are not just for individuals interested in working in the disability space. His classmates in these courses included majors in nursing, business, public policy, speech therapy and even music education seeking “a new set of skills and knowledge to look at disability in a certain way that is more universal.”

Synthesizing these perspectives led Justin to promote Universal Design (UD) in work settings, which means that “anyone designing a service should always consider how individuals with disabilities may utilize it.” According to Justin, UD is a way to “construct environments to fill all walks of life to get rid of the social constructs of disability and accommodate all [individuals].”

Self-Advocacy

“As a person with a visible disability…, I need to be explicit about my accommodations and what a ‘reasonable’ accommodation means.”

Justin says Y&YADs entering the workforce should not be afraid of advocating for themselves and should “understand their own worth and what they’re capable of doing, and sometimes teach others and employers what a reasonable accommodation is.”

Justin also understands the importance of advocating for mental health support, because “mental health plays a big part for anyone with an intersectionality in their identity.” He suggests that Y&YADs encourage employers to understand mental health issues to promote greater inclusion of people from all backgrounds.

Networking and Social Supports

“I am lucky in the position I have with my career. It’s because of strong family and friend support.”

Justin stresses that social support is key to success. Family and friends can provide a safety net from “fighting in the arena for your rights.”

Furthermore, he thinks that young adults – particularly recent graduates – should maintain strong networks, because “networking is key in school. The people you meet will be your foundation and should be your go-to support for advice.”

For those without direct support, Justin recommends attending focus groups and diversity initiatives focused on disability inclusion. “Get to know directors and leaders of these initiatives – both outside organizations and groups within your school setting or workplace,” he says.

Advice to Policymakers

State policymakers can help advance opportunities for Y&YADs entering the workforce by engaging youth with disabilities (including those with intersecting social identities) in the policymaking process. “When you are helping a community, you need to bring that community with you to understand what they are facing,” Justin says, adding that he learned this lesson from his social work training. He further highlights the important role of youth voices in designing programs, noting that “sometimes, it takes someone else’s opinions to look in on the situation to get done what needs to get done.”

For more information about policy options for improving employment outcomes for Y&YADs, see CAPE-Youth’s brief, “Addressing the Needs of Youth with Disabilities and Other Intersecting Identities: State Strategies for Program Implementation.”

Disclaimer from Justin Tapp: Any opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

The post Black History Month: An Interview with Justin Tapp first appeared on Cape – Youth.

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  

On-the-job-support 

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.