Monday, December 21, 2009

Going Viral

The fear of hiring people with disabilities stems from a number of reasons and not just one single preconceived notion. This fear often originates from unknowns such as cost or liability. This is unfortunate because almost one-third of ADA accommodation can be met at zero cost and liability is actually greater when not hiring an individual with a disability. Fortunately, this fear can be overcome.

I work for a large corporation that values diversity and believes that its strength comes from a diverse culture. Knowing that this company operates with these beliefs has allowed me to create a truly diverse recruiting strategy with an emphasis on building and sustaining an inclusive workforce. Unsure of where to begin, I was pointed in the direction of the New Mexico Business Leadership Network (NMBLN). Their efforts, assistance, direction, and support was invaluable in building the foundation to our success.

By building meaningful relationships within the community, we were easily able to identify the resources that would help us connect with qualified individuals seeking employment. Before long, I had job seekers, agencies, and employers were all reaching out directly to me to learn more about opportunities for recruiting, hiring, and retaining people with disabilities. Additionally, my peers across the nation were also contacting us with questions about recruiting strategies and training implementation.

This small effort by one person in a small city has gone viral. We all have the ability to truly make a difference when it comes to building an inclusive workforce. Disability does not equal inability. Employees with disabilities often have higher production and retention rates along with lower absenteeism rates. Our employees are focused, dedicated, and loyal.

Due to a collaborative effort by business leaders, the community, and organizations like the New Mexico Business Leadership Network, companies are looking to hire qualified people with disabilities. It takes all of us working together and combining our thoughts, ideas, and resources, to overcome the barriers of fear. By getting involved, staying involved, sharing experiences and asking questions, we have the collective strength to make a very real difference. We have a powerful impact on disability employment.

Michelle M. Gonzalez
Human Resources Professional
Board Member, New Mexico Business Leadership Network

Monday, December 14, 2009

Equal Employment for All

When will Equal Employment for men and women with disabilities become a reality and not just a few words that are part of some article written in the month of October for National Disability Employment Awareness month? When will the unemployment rate that this community faces every day become a number we can live with rather than a statistic no one cares or does something about? When will the people in the Federal, State and City Governments start hiring people with disabilities and not just tell others to do it? We have seen the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA not make opportunities for this community become more plentiful. Today we stand as the greatest country in the world, with some very smart people. Why do we allow our disabled citizens to be underemployed or unemployed and have no voice regarding their future? Have you ever gone to a party where someone didn’t ask what you did for a living? Would you want to answer I receive Social Security? The solution to the issue of putting our disabled community to work must be an issue we take seriously. Steps must be put in place to right this wrong. First, we must get corporate America to sit at the table, and we must have our Human Resource Professionals include disability management into the daily framework of their positions. We must make funding available for the organizations entrusted with preparing this community for employment with the tools they need to succeed; vocational counselors must be able to have access to the latest in technology, training and human resource education available. We must stop training people for jobs that no longer exist in this economy and prepare them for positions that will provide for family sustaining income and career advancement. We must bring corporations and the world of vocational education closer together and to trust one another. When a vocational counselor tells a corporate recruiter “I have the best person for the job” they truly are the best person for the job.

Jeff Klare rides 300 miles to promote the Employment of men and women with disabilities, led by Eric Madeus an 8 year old. Eric one day will be seeking employment

He noted that what happens now would likely affect Eric Madaus, 8, who suffers from Spina Bifida, and other young people with disabilities. They will need, and want to hold meaningful jobs in the future.

Madaus, from the D.C. area, led Klare to the finish line on a special bike.

“If not now, when?” Klare asked. “If companies don’t look to employ people with disabilities now, what’s his future going to be like?”

Jeff Klare
CEO, Hire Disability Solutions, LLC

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Supporting Job Creation Efforts for People with Disabilities in New Jersey

As we look at a devastated economy with real unemployment rates hovering over 18% for all workers, we know that the situation for workers with disabilities is even more dire.

In the past, the biggest issues for people with disabilities might have been accessibility and having the appropriate training and preparation for demand jobs. However, according to US Department of Labor statistics, we are now seeing 27 million more people than there are jobs available—6 people for every job opening. Clearly, while accessibility, education and training are important, an even bigger priority is the creation of new jobs to overcome the massive losses we’ve sustained in the past 10 years.

So how do we support job creation for people with disabilities? In part through supporting the entrepreneurial aspirations of people with disabilities.

New Jersey, through its MIG-funded DiscoverAbilty NJ project is targeting entrepreneurship in three ways.

NJ BLN Disability Supplier Diversity Program
First, we are working with the US and the NJ Business Leadership Network (USBLN and NJBLN) to deploy their Disability Supplier Diversity Program. Through this project, businesses can apply for a “disability-owned” designation that will be independently certified by the NJBLN. This designation will then be marketed to consumers and businesses so that they can patronize companies that have the Disability Supplier Diversity credential.

Entrepreneurship Mentoring Project
New businesses tend to fail within the first three years after start-up. However, with proper mentoring and support, new entrepreneurs can avoid many of the pitfalls that can challenge so many fledgling businesses. The Entrepreneurship Mentoring project will connect new business owners with more experienced businesses for mentoring and support during this critical time.

Innovations Fund
As part of the DiscoverAbility NJ project, we will also be funding smaller, innovative projects throughout the State. Nonprofits and other organizations can apply for the funding and priority will be given to projects that support entrepreneurship for individuals with disabilities in New Jersey.

We’re excited about the possibilities of building entrepreneurial opportunities for people with disabilities and providing them with the support they need to embark on successful self-employment. Job creation is a critical component of all of our workforce development efforts in New Jersey and support for the entrepreneurial aspirations of people with disabilities is a key piece of that puzzle.

If you have other ideas for how we can support entrepreneurship, please leave us a note in the Comments section of this post or drop me a line at

Resources on Entrepreneurship for Individuals with Disabilities

Michele Martin
DiscoverAbility NJ Project Coordinator

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Common Challenges and Opportunities for Collaboration

I am a member of the Connecticut Team, one of three states selected to receive a grant from the NTAR Leadership Center to participate in a 15-month State Leaders Innovation Institute (SLII). One of our team goals is to have the state of Connecticut become a model employer for people with disabilities. In my professional life I am employed as a Human Resources Consultant in the Department of Administrative Services which houses the statewide human resources management division. Some of the functions my division is responsible for include: setting human resources policies for the state, developing job descriptions, administering merit examinations, conducting collective bargaining grievances, and providing consultation to all state agencies on the entire spectrum of human resources matters from employment to termination and everything in between. As a person who has done a lot of work with employees who have disabilities throughout my career this is the goal I am most committed to.

Thanks to the NTAR Leadership Center, I recently had the opportunity to attend The Governor’s Forum on Disability and Economic Development in Roanoke, VA. I was very excited about attending because I was looking forward to seeing what success Virginia had in closing the employment gap for persons with disabilities and I was hoping to get a few ideas that maybe we could adopt in Connecticut. (The later being very important to me as I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel!)

Virginia has high hopes and incredibly motivated leadership, but advancing employment goals in this economy is challenging at best. Virginia is approaching this issue in a similar fashion to Connecticut and faces many of the same challenges. I learned at the conference that while Virginia has great resources available for people with disabilities, it is difficult to get the word out about these resources. It struck me that someone - who was involved in the disability employment field and was attending this conference - was not aware of all of the resources available. This is one of the many challenges that states face; we not only need to make resources available, we need to get these resources to those who need them, especially during these tough economic times.

So while I didn’t learn new strategies to approach the issue of employment, I did get something I consider ever better… networking contacts. I met and talked extensively with my HR counterpart in state government, I networked with many people from other agencies that provide services to or work with peoples with disabilities such as the department of Rehabilitative services, the workforce development board, department for the Blind and Vision impaired, Virginia Tech University and Northrop Grumman Corporation. These contacts I consider to be invaluable, especially since I’ve already been able to tap into the expertise of at least one of them. I also left with the feeling that as an employer the state of Connecticut is doing much better that I thought we were.

My sincere appreciation and gratitude to the NTAR Leadership Center for providing me with this wonderful opportunity.

Francine E. Dew

Human Resources Consultant, State of Connecticut

Monday, November 30, 2009

Reflections on USBLN Conference

I had the privilege of attending the United States Business Leadership Network’s ® (USBLN) National Conference in National Harbor Maryland in September thanks to the NTAR Leadership Center. I, as Executive Director, and Regina Stankaitis, as President, represented the Connecticut Business Leadership Network, an association of small, medium and large businesses committed to maximizing employment for people with disabilities.

A major theme of the conference was maximizing the amount of the 220 billion dollars of disposable income of people with disabilities that business could acquire. Presenters discussed marketing to people with disabilities outside of the business and within. For example, Nordstrom’s featured its catalogue ads with disabled models as well as its lighting which makes its goods more accessible to people with disabilities. Ernst and Young talked about its role with the USBLN ® in developing a pilot program to certify disability owned businesses like minority and women owned businesses. Many employers presented strategies for hiring qualified candidates with disabilities. Randy Lewis of Walgreens talked about universality in workplace accommodations - a modification to a tracking system for people with intellectual disabilities made everyone 20% more productive.

What continues to strike me is that businesses "get it" about disability. Disability rights advocates no longer need to make the business case for hiring people with disabilities. They make it to each other. They understand that good customer service to people with disabilities generalizes to better customer service. They understand that good management of people with disabilities and workplace accommodations translates to good management overall.

I was recently at a meeting where human service professionals and disability advocates were discussing job carving. They explained that this involved dividing a job up so that it included functions that could be done by a person with an intellectual disability. A retired insurance executive exclaimed “that’s not ‘job carving’. It is just what good managers do.” This awareness extends well beyond the small number of companies that disability advocates consider when naming disability-positive companies. It extends to all businesses that want to be on the cutting edge when looking at ways to maximize their bottom line.

Melissa Marshall, Executive Director

Connecticut Business Leadership Network

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reflections on Working with States

For the past couple of years, I have directed the activities of the Center for Workers with Disabilities. CWD is a technical assistance center for state Medicaid Infrastructure Grant projects that is housed in the National Association of State Medicaid Directors, an affiliate of the American Public Human Services Association. CWD is also part of the NTAR Leadership Center consortium. I came to the field of disability employment with experience in welfare reform, workforce development for low-income families, and youth development. Each of these areas has given me useful insights that help enhance efforts to promote employment of people with disabilities.

Welfare reform demonstrated the value of providing states with flexibility to craft “to work” policies and programs. The welfare reform experiences of states have given us lessons on what works (and doesn’t work) to support low-income families in employment. The field of workforce development has pioneered important new approaches, such as industry-based or sectoral employment strategies, that show real promise for creating pathways to good jobs and that states are beginning to incorporate into their disability employment efforts. The field of youth development uses an “SOS” framework – Services, Opportunities, and Supports. I think this concept can be applied broadly to support human capital development for all youth, and also for adults with barriers to employment.

Working with Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG) projects provides a unique opportunity to be part of an “infrastructure development” initiative. MIG funds are used to support system-building activities designed to make lasting change to health and employment systems for people with disabilities. This, along with flexibility in the use of funds, has enabled states to improve coordination across complex systems, build leadership at the state level, develop policies and programs to better support access to health care and employment, and experiment with new approaches to employment for youth and adults with disabilities.

It’s no surprise then that a number of MIG projects are taking part in the NTAR Leadership Center’s activities, including the State Leaders Innovation Institute and the State Peer Leaders Network. Through the NTAR Leadership Center, we are able to support state leaders in bridging workforce development and disability employment initiatives, and in connecting to broader state economic development efforts. And through CWD and the NTAR Leadership Center, we are able to facilitate state-to-state peer exchange and networking, which is proving an invaluable component to supporting innovation in the field.

2010 will be an important year for MIGs and other disability employment efforts. If health care reform legislation is enacted, it will make significant change to Medicaid and private insurance with important implications for people with disabilities. Additionally, with the expiration of MIG funding in 2011, 2010 will be a pivotal year for “telling the story” of the MIGs and addressing sustainability. I look forward to working with our states and partners to build long-term sustainability for state systems change efforts.

Nanette Relave
Director, Center for Workers with Disabilities

American Public Human Services Association

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Insights from National Research

Many of us who work in the field of employment supports for people with disabilities often become frustrated by the ongoing high rates of unemployment (and underemployment) for people with disabilities. We see ourselves toiling year after year to get more people employed, and wish that employment was a reality for all persons with disabilities. We see the positive outcomes of working, and wonder why so few people with disabilities are gainfully employed.

Part of the problem is that we have been working primarily on the supply side – working to improve the supply of ready and able workers. As a field, we have not paid enough attention to the demand side. We have not created the need for workers with disabilities among employers. As a co-author of the soon to be released NTAR Leadership Center research report "Ready and Able," I had the opportunity to visit and learn about a number of exciting and innovative demand-side programs bringing people with disabilities into the workforce on a broad scale. As I visited these programs and interviewed people involved in these projects, including persons with disabilities, I was impressed by the vision and ingenuity of the businesses and employment organizations.

In this blog entry, I will highlight a couple of them and share some impressions and questions. Project SEARCH at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has resulted in many people becoming employed and gaining work experiences. Project SEARCH was initiated by Erin Reihle, RN, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and has been replicated across the globe, moving into fields other than health care, and offering a promising model for blending demand and supply to bring people with disabilities into the workforce.

Our research project offers an in-depth profile of a replication occurring at Monmouth Medical Center in Red Bank, NJ, showing how the model can be adapted to meet individual employer needs. The New Bedford, MA Chamber of Commerce’s Supported Employment Network offers an example of a unique partnership between the business community and local disability employment organizations, with funding from the local office of the state developmental disability support agency. This collaboration has resulted in hundreds and hundreds of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities working and contributing their labor to the community and local economy.

These two efforts, along with the other profiles created in our research project, document unique, business-led effort to gain valuable employees from diverse groups and create pipelines for hiring workers. As such, these efforts also assure that Americans with disabilities can enjoy the same benefits of work as most other people, both monetary and personal.

The question is, why are these great collaborations the exception rather than the rule? Don’t businesses want good employees? Don’t people with disabilities want to work?

The easy answer for this is that it requires people to reach out to different communities. Businesses usually talk to other business. When the local branch of the state developmental disability state agency in New Bedford, MA reached out to the Chamber of Commerce, there was a positive response, as the director of the Chamber at that time was already involved in the community above and beyond representing business interests. A failure to collaborate on either part would have doomed this project. Openness to difference, however, will result in the meeting of supply and demand, and in our research profiles, we have given a number of wonderful examples of this.

Dan Baker
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Elizabeth M. Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities
Co-Investigator, NTAR Leadership Center National Research

Friday, November 6, 2009

NTAR Leadership Center National Research: Ready and Able

Over the last year or so, I have been working on an exciting research project through the NTAR Leadership Center. My colleagues and I are profiling market-driven practices that promote employment for people with disabilities. We have been especially interested in learning about partnerships with employers that lead to increased hiring, retention, promotion or accommodation of people with disabilities. At this point, we have completed our field visits, interviews and other research, and we are now in the process of writing up what we found in a report to be called, “Ready and Able.”

While all of the people we spoke to in doing our research have a common belief that people with disabilities can work and want to work, the word that comes to mind to describe our research is “diversity.” For a start, our research team is comprised of people with different backgrounds. I have experience primarily with the “mainstream” workforce development system, and my two colleagues – Bob Nicholas and Dan Baker – have extensive experience with disability systems. The experience of seeing the subjects of our profiles through these different lenses has enriched the research and led to greater understanding of diverse perspectives.

We have found amazing diversity in the approaches we are profiling. Employers partner and collaborate to employ people with disabilities in so many different ways. We are seeing collaborations between major national employers and public sector agencies. Some models focus on a particular industry or occupational sector, in partnership with public or nonprofit intermediary organizations. We talked to different types of job brokers – a private staffing service and a non-profit “Alternative Staffing Organization” – to understand how they work to increase employment of people with disabilities. We found some really great partnerships that expand opportunities for college students and graduates with disabilities. And we also spoke to people working in local and regional hubs that bridge the gap between people with disabilities and employers. We found some great people and organizations working in creative ways to act as catalysts for disability and employment partnerships.

The research also reminded me of the diversity among people with disabilities – so many different types of people, so many different needs and approaches. And we have found, in many cases, that companies are increasingly seeing disability as another dimension of diversity – within their workforces and their customer bases.

While the approaches are varied, there are some important common themes that are emerging. Employers are embracing the business case for employing people with disabilities. They see individuals with disabilities as adding value and positively affecting the company’s or organization’s “bottom line.” One person called this being smart, not nice. The more successful experiences employers have, the more they want to hire people with disabilities. At the same time, employers do not want to have to maintain relationships with many varied disability service organizations. They want a partner to make it easy for them to recruit, hire, train and support people with disabilities. A good partnership or collaboration can serve this function. For a number of companies that have made a clear commitment to disability as diversity, the only question is how best to accomplish this.

Our research has shown me that “diversity” means creativity, great ideas and different approaches that enrich and strengthen the ways in which the private, public and non-profit sectors can work together to increase employment of people with disabilities. Stay tuned for the complete “Ready and Able” report. Meanwhile, tell us about your diverse experiences with partnerships that promote employment for people with disabilities.

Ronnie Kauder

Senior Practitioner in Residence, Heldrich Center

Principal Investigator, NTAR Leadership Center National Research

Monday, November 2, 2009

Conversations with Leaders

For the past several weeks, I have traveling around the country talking with state officials, business leaders and others about the work they are doing in the disability and employment area, listening to speeches and presentations, and observing the work of very dedicated people trying to figure out how they can crack the employment problem. While traveling, I have had so many interesting conversations, and listened to some presentations that were really thought provoking – I wanted to share a few with you.

My conversation with Terry Donovan who works on Pathways to Employment in Minnesota about the ‘diffusion of innovation’ theory and strategies for effectively moving pilot projects to national implementation successfully. We also talked about how to inculcate piloted local and state practices from their research and development phase into new ways of doing business. Terry and all the other folks in Minnesota we work with through our Center give me so many ‘aha’ moments when we talk that I always want to stay in Minnesota (except for that winter thing they have going there).

My talk with Michelle Martin (a women with enormous creative energy who has her own blog called ‘The Bamboo Project’ and who is assisting New Jersey with their disability employment efforts) was about the need to look at, and work with, jobseekers in terms of their ‘employment readiness’ versus some stereotype or silo like ‘disability’, ‘low income’, ‘TANF recipient’, or ‘dislocated worker’. Michelle is a rockstar! and is teaching me a lot about Web 2.0 technology and communications and all that energy – wow!

My discussions with folks in New Mexico about the necessity, if not the imperative, of objectively evaluating our employment programs and practices. My colleague at the Heldrich Center, Bill Mabe, and I recently presented at the Southwest Conference on Disability about what you need to know to structure an effective, user friendly evaluation (the presentation can be found on the Heldrich Center website I can’t say enough about the need to really know if the services and supports everyone is working on really are making a difference, or whether we are so emotionally attached to what we are doing that we can’t objectively see that some things just are not working very well.

Finally, I was recently presenting with Dana Egretsky from the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce (who also runs the New Jersey Business Leadership Network) in Atlantic City at a state conference on autism. Dana and I were scheduled to discuss the New Jersey economy, what employers are looking for, and how to best prepare for the world of work. We both realized that the presentation we were about to give was, most likely, going to be somewhat depressing given the poor employment outlook and how difficult it is to be upbeat when the reality of the job market is a bit bleak. What can you say except get a skill, stay in school, be positive and slog through it? Clearly, there are not a lot of easy answers for jobseekers right now. Yet conversations like these continue to make me realize how there are great people out in the field who are thinking about how to make changes, who want to have an honest dialogue about the status quo and challenges to real change, and who sincerely want to make a difference.

Kathy Krepcio

Director, NTAR Leadership Center

Friday, October 23, 2009

Disability Employment Policy in Virginia

I am very grateful to the NTAR Leadership Center for giving me this opportunity to be a guest blogger. This week I will share a little about what’s been happening in Virginia over the past three years to improve employment options for our citizens with disabilities especially those with significant disabilities. This has long been a passion of mine throughout my career in many fields serving people who have disabilities.

This passion grew inside of me while serving as a Special Educator in the 70’s, a Peer Counselor at a Center for Independent Living throughout the 80’s, and a Training Associate at the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University during the 90’s through the mid 2000’s. In all these roles I encouraged my customers (a term I prefer over clients or consumers because it challenges me to serve folks to their satisfaction) to seek gainful competitive employment to maximize their opportunity to live independently in the community. These jobs allowed me to assist people one-on-one or in groups through counseling and training sessions to learning the skills they needed to find and maintain meaningful careers. Although these jobs were very satisfying and I was able to help a lot of people I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact on employment policy for people with disabilities. This opportunity came my way during the summer of 2006 through a gubernatorial appointment.

Shortly after my part time Appointment as the Governor’s Special Advisor on Disability issues in the Workforce I had the opportunity to sit down with Governor Kaine to discuss his expectations of my role. He immediately charged me with the task of identifying a disability issue where he could make a significant impact on during his Administration and could use as his thumb print in making a difference. I responded immediately which I believed surprised him a little. I said Governor Kaine there is no issue more important to Virginians with Disabilities than having the right to work, earn a good wage and live in the community with other citizens. With that we shook hands and he sent me on my way “to get it done.”

I began working on this task by checking into disability employment programs that were already in place and seeing if there were any opportunities for collaboration. This investigation led to a meeting between the Departments’ of Veterans Affairs, Rehabilitative Services (DRS), Virginia Employment Commission and a veterans employment initiative housed at the Virginia Department of Transportation. The Governor's Office on Workforce was also represented by the Senior Advisor on Workforce Daniel LeBlanc and me. During this meeting each agency described what services they provided to assist people and veterans with disabilities to enter into meaningful careers. The meeting ended with agencies agreeing to find more effective ways to collaborate.

This initial meeting was probably the spring board for the Secretary of Public Safety appointing a taskforce to look at ways to increase employment for wounded veterans returning to Virginia from Iraqi and Afghanistan. Mr. LeBlanc, DRS Commissioner Rothrock, and other employment stakeholders including me worked on the taskforce to develop recommendations which are currently being implemented. These recommendations are intended to improve career options for Virginia’s wounded warriors.

The second major activity that I worked on was a Public-Private Partnership grant (from the Board for People with Disabilities) project. This innovative project was facilitated by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. It involved Temporary Staffing Companies working with DRS, the Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired and selected Employment Service Organizations to increase employment opportunities in state government for qualified employees with disabilities.

This unique project had the strong support of the Governor who issued Executive Directive #8 to reinforce his commitment to hiring qualified employees with disabilities in state government. ED #8 ordered all state agencies, colleges and universities to examine their hiring policies and remove any that might be barriers to hiring or promoting qualified applicants/employees with disabilities. In addition the Chief of Staff issued a memorandum encouraging all human resource managers to attend training developed by project staff in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) to assist them in implementing ED#8. Lastly the directive requires all state agencies and institutions of higher learning to report to the Secretary of Administration annually on their progress in implementing thee Directive.

Another major responsibility of the Special Advisor is to serve on the Executive Management Committee of Virginia’s Disability Program Navigator Project. In this role I serve as a resource to EMC members, Navigators, WIB Directors, and Workforce Center Managers on program and physical accessibility issues. Our Medicaid Works program has been a strong partner and resource for our state’s very successful Disability Program Navigator project along with DRS and the Workforce Office currently housed in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). These collaborative efforts enabled Virginia to compete for a unique grant opportunity that would present its self in the spring of 2008.

In the spring of 08’ Daniel LeBlanc came across a very unique grant opportunity that he believed would enhance employment opportunities for Virginians with significant disabilities. This opportunity was being provided by a US Department of Labor grant awarded to the National Technical Assistance Research (NTAR Leadership Center) Project at Rutgers University’s John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. The purpose of the institute would be to assist disability and workforce development stakeholders to use innovative approaches in increasing employment options for people with disabilities in their states. The Governor’s Workforce Office along with our partners from DRS enthusiastically set about the task of developing the proposal. We also received input from members of a state team that I had formed as a part of the grant process. Our state team comprised of representatives from businesses, state agencies, academics, an Employment Service Organization and employees with disabilities.

Unfortunately, we were notified in late spring that we were not selected as one of the three states. However, our proposal was strong enough to entitle our state team to receive technical assistance from the NTAR Leadership Center on two priority areas to be selected by our team. We chose; building relationships with the economic development community to increase employment options for citizens with disabilities and turning entrepreneurial opportunities into meaningful careers for Virginians with disabilities. However, as we began receiving technical assistance in July 2008 the team seemed to focus on the first one because it seemed to have the greatest potential of bearing the most fruit.

During the second technical assistance session, NTAR Leadership Center Director Kathy Krepcio announced that the NTAR Leadership Center would like to assist the Virginia team in carrying on its work due to its commitment in implementing several activities identified in its first TA session. The plan is also included as a part of this Blog.

As team leader I had no doubt what I wanted and felt we needed. I proposed to my team that we hold a statewide forum with all the major employment stakeholders and include employees with disabilities and the Economic Development Community in our discussions. I believed such a forum would assist me in answering the Governor’s charge by giving him a tangible product he could point to as an achievement of his Administration. The purpose of the Forum would be to develop a blueprint on ways to reduce the horrific unemployment rate among Virginians with significant disabilities. The team approved my recommendation at our March 2009 meeting and I appointed a committee to begin the work of planning this uniquely different forum. The Planning Committee, chaired by Howard Green from the RRTC/VCU, began its work in earnest in mid April. The Planning Committee came up with an excellent day and a half agenda to ensure the Forum would complete its work. COFFEY Consulting assisted us with the logistical aspects associated with holding such an event.

The Governor’s Disability and Economic Development Forum was held September 15th & 16th at the beautiful and Historic Hotel Roanoke. It was kicked off with a welcome video by Governor Kaine who charged the 80 attendees to come up with this great document. We had four excellent facilitators who assisted attendees to come up with the ideas and recommendations. To do this they developed three discussion topics and attendees were assigned to a topical group without consideration to their background or stakeholder interest. The Planning Committee believed this would encourage free thinking and a wide variety of ides being generated without stakeholders having to be concerned about turf issues. These discussion topics are listed below:

Discussion topic 1 – Employment Opportunities
  • In your experience, what are Virginia’s greatest strengths in creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities?
  • What activities are occurring within the workforce and economic development systems that could be built upon to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities?
Discussion Topic 2 – Leveraging Strengths and Resources Over the next five years, what would it take for Virginia to become a world leader in leveraging the strengths of people with disabilities and the workforce/economic development systems to:
  • Create employment opportunities for people with disabilities?
  • Expand the pool of qualified applicants who are ready and willing to work for relocating companies and new businesses?
Discussion topic 3 – Promising Strategies What are the three most promising strategies that your group would recommend? Currently the planning committee is in the process of reviewing the blueprint so it is very doubtful that it would be a part of the blog at this time because I believe other member of our team need to review it before it becomes public. However as soon as it is approved by the entire team I will make sure Kathy Krepcio gets a copy that she can share with those of you who have an interest in seeing it.

I have pledged to our team to work with Daniel LeBlanc to see that this blue print is delivered to Governor Kaine and appropriate members of his Administration in a timely manner. I will also work with appropriate staff to see that it is handed over to the Transition Team for the incoming Administration. However, I want to make it clear to other Virginia Employment advocates that they also have a responsibility! After Danny and I have gone on our way you must keep inquiring of the next Administration and the ones to come in the future about the implementation of this blue print. Remember qualified employees with disabilities are depending on you to be vigilant.

Thank you for taking time to read the information in this blog and I look forward to responding to your questions and having a real productive dialog on the important topic of how to increase employment options for people with disabilities.

Thank you,

Ed Turner

Governor Kaine’s Special Advisor on Disability Issues in the Workforce

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reflections on Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Reauthorization

On October 1, 2009, I had the privilege of participating in a USDOL national listening session on how the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) can be used as an opportunity to improve the ability of the workforce system to serve jobseekers with disabilities. According to the Labor Department’s press release, over 700 people participated either in person or via webinar, an indication both that people think WIA reauthorization may actually happen in the year ahead, after several years where it has not been a priority issue, and that there are many opinions of how the One Stops and workforce system can be more responsive to people with disabilities.

I will share several impressions from that day.

First, it was exciting to see the two Assistant Secretaries—Jane Oates from the Employment and Training Administration (ETA), and Kathy Martinez, from the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) – sitting side by side. Aside from the fact that they appeared to be enjoying each other’s company, and that they stayed for the entire 3-hour event, the picture of them sitting together seems to send a message that disability employment is clearly on the agenda at ETA. I have had the chance to see (the always dynamic) Assistant Secretary Oates speak in public several times where she has emphasized the importance of interagency collaboration at the federal level, especially between the USDOL and the US Department of Education. It’s great to see this collaborative spirit also applies in-house to the various agencies within the Labor Department itself. It also fits in perfectly with what the NTAR Leadership Center is promoting around cross-agency partnerships and collaboration at the state level.

Many of the day’s 21 speakers spent their five minutes discussing contributions made by Disability Program Navigators. In preparing my remarks, Kathy Krepcio and I decided to primarily focus on the tremendous efforts made by the three states in our State Leaders Innovation Institute, Maryland, Minnesota and Connecticut. We reflected on issues these states and others have raised repeatedly about some of the challenges people with disabilities face as a result of a fragmented workforce development system, with its various programs that sometimes result in contradictory messages about employment expectations for people with disabilities. We hope that a reauthorized WIA can make some progress towards a unified federal policy affirming that people with disabilities are an integral part of the nation’s workforce, and that there can be better alignment across traditional labor, education, and health and human services agencies at all levels to promote employment of people with disabilities.

When we launched the SLII, the Great Recession was just beginning to take hold of the American economy. In the months since then, and with the prospect of high unemployment continuing for months if not years to come, people often raise the issue of how the workforce system can possibly hope to better serve people with disabilities, with so very many non-disabled jobseekers in the labor market. In watching our states go about their work, I’m coming to think we need to learn from their example that jobseekers are jobseekers first, regardless of their unique challenges, and that the workforce system has as much of an obligation to serve people with disabilities as it does any jobseekers.

On a side note: Two of my kids have recently taken up fencing, and we were all interested to read an article in the front section of the New York Times about young fencers who are in wheelchairs. Fencing is a popular sport in our home state of New Jersey, and it was great to see that the New Jersey Fencing Alliance has invested in making wheelchair fencing, which traces its roots to returning World War II veterans, available in our area.

Maria Heidkamp,

Senior Research Project Manager at the Heldrich Center

and Director of the NTAR Leadership Center's State Leaders Innovation Institute

Friday, October 9, 2009

Employer Collaboration and Coordination

Today, publicizing our work and organizations through “new media” such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube has become the norm. Like many of you (and if you haven’t already you will soon), I completed media training and found myself on blogs, podcasts, and videos. Now I admit I find technology interesting and am pretty savvy about promoting my work as a grants officer at Kessler Foundation, which funds employment opportunities for people with disabilities through our “Transition to Work” initiative. Yet, I often find myself suffering from information overload — too many sites to visit and so little time.

Now just imagine you are the hiring manager at a local company. It is particularly overwhelming from a human resource perspective to recruit job seekers with disabilities. Where are they? It is common knowledge that an employer’s willingness to hire individuals with disabilities is ultimately influenced by easy access to a large job pool of qualified applicants.

Some employers may turn to the Internet. Web access has spurred the growth of job boards specifically marketing to people with disabilities. Sites such as,, and, enable consumers to post resumes and apply for advertised jobs. Companies seeking recent college graduates look to and

State vocational rehabilitation (VR) programs and community rehabilitation providers are forming new marketing initiatives with business to promote recruitment and hiring of people with disabilities. In New Jersey, the MOSAIC Center Disability Employment, a pilot program funded by Kessler Foundation, is a single point of contact linking job seekers with disabilities with employers seeking qualified workers. It is a no-cost service that matches candidates’ skills and work experience to available job opportunities.

Bergen County College, the lead project partner, recently received federal dollars to expand its outreach beyond the disability community to include other minority populations. What makes this project unique is that the 16 founding partners grew to over 30 cooperating organizations. Its collaborative partners now are a diverse group of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations such as rehabilitation providers, recruitment companies, Chambers of Commerce, One-Stop Career Centers, Workforce Investment Boards, and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

You may say this concept is nothing new. That is true — except many collaborative employment partnerships remain active only on paper. This group meets face-to-face regularly and actually talks through issues that could throw the project off track. Like anything else, there are challenges, especially in this difficult economy.

MOSAIC is a project that has been operating quietly for almost a year…and seems to be working. It is a win-win project for all — saving employers time by providing skilled job seekers that are screened and appropriate for their openings and connecting greater numbers of people with disabilities to jobs.

Elaine Katz

Vice President of Grant Programs and Special Initiatives, Henry H. Kessler Foundation

Co-author of the NTAR Leadership Center research brief, Collobrating and Coordinating with Employers

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Seeding Change and Policymaking

Greetings, and welcome to the NTAR Leadership Center's new blog called "Seeding Change".

Why seeding change? Because I feel the work we are doing through the Center is about introducing people to new ideas, concepts, knowledge, and most importantly, other people from diverse fields. Our hope is that these 'seeds' will result in fostering new or different approaches -- approaches that will ultimately create jobs and better economic outcomes for adults with disabilities.

I also like the concept of seeding change because I like to garden, and I find that the “systems change” work that we all do is very organic and a lot like gardening. For example, in public policymaking, it is important to have an idea of what you want to accomplish. In gardening, it also helps to start out with a plan and a layout of what you want to grow. Yet, in either case, there’s no guarantee that what you end up with will look anything like what you planned. That is a given. In my garden, I am amazed that every year I approach it in the same way -- I plan it, plant it, prune it, weed it, water it -- and every year it ends up looking different!

I could, of course, rip it all out if what I wanted doesn't work out -- or I can embrace the unexpected, because it may be just as good or better than what I thought would grow. In my garden, I find doing a little bit of both helps. The perennial phlox that I planted several years ago decided to seed itself all over my yard and now comes up in the most unexpected of places. I could dig it up -- but I like its brazenness. On the other hand, my husband and I waged a relentless fight against the potato blight that threatened my Jersey tomatoes this past summer (potato blight and tomatoes? Who knew?). The point is: in gardening, I need to strike a balance between the things I have the power (and desire) to change -- and my willingness to live with the consequences of my actions or inactions. The same is true in making public policy!

When it comes to working in the trenches to reform a system, as many of you are doing, I have come to realize how important it is to be vigilant and pay attention to it every day. While I must admit I am not able to be in my garden on a daily basis weeding, watering, or fertilizing, I recognize that to neglect it for even one day means something is going to run amok. Last year, I somewhat ignored my garden (o.k., really ignored it), and I learned one valuable lesson -- the power of those plants that I do not nurture to take over. In this case, I underestimated the power of Creeping Charlie to take over the yard. And, as many of you who have worked in public policy know, trying to undo what has “taken over” while you weren’t looking is back-breaking, difficult work.

Finally, in both gardening and policymaking, I have found that new ideas can come from unexpected places. Inspiration for my garden can come from anywhere -- the farmers market, talking to friends, or looking at endless magazines. You never know where the muse is. The same goes for changing systems and creating opportunities: inspiration to change -- or to try something new -- can come from the most surprising sources.

Recently, I was talking to my colleague Mary Alice Mowry from Minnesota. Mary Alice was telling me that she had gone to a workshop at the Milwaukee APSE conference in early summer and it really energized her. She said the workshop asked the participants three simple questions. Number one: What time is it? Number two: What do you need to learn, unlearn, and relearn? And Number three: What is your next bold move?

So, as we launch this new blog, I invite each of you to become an active participant in the two-way “conversations” our guest authors will lead every week in this space. In the spirit of change and inspiration, please share your comments and insights, and tell us:

What do YOU need to learn and relearn? What is YOUR next bold move?

Kathy Krepcio

Director, NTAR Leadership Center