Monday, October 18, 2010

Partner Spotlight: Alliance for Full Participation

The Alliance for Full Participation (AFP) is a collaboration of states and organizations that seek to ensure that people with developmental disabilities have the opportunity to be included, integrated, independent, and productive community members. AFP has a strong vision for employment equity in competitive jobs with competitive wages, raised expectations surrounding employment, and job satisfaction and retention among people with development disabilities. This commitment includes the "Real Jobs: It's Everyone's Business" Campaign, which seeks to double the employment rate of people with disabilities by 2015. A summit will be held in Washington, D.C. in November 2011 to mark the midpoint in the campaign and bring together the various stakeholders involved in the movement. Central to the work of AFP are state-level partners and state team members, including people with developmental disabilities, their employers, coworkers and families, business organizations, community members, service providers, government representatives, and advocates. Karen Flippo, the State Team Liaison for AFP, spoke with the NTAR Leadership Center about the "Real Jobs" campaign.

Listen to the podcast with Karen Flippo, State Teams Liaison, Alliance for Full Participation
Read a transcript of the podcast
Learn more about the November 2011 summit
Find out more about your state AFP team

Monday, October 4, 2010

Strategy Spotlight: Registered Apprenticeships

Registered Apprenticeships (RA) combine on the job training with classroom style education to provide a full skill set necessary to succeed at a particular career. The U.S. Department of Labor's (USDOL) RA program offers a training path to over 1,000 different careers in a wide variety of sectors - from the more traditional apprenticeship style fields such as a carpentry and electrical work to law enforcement and healthcare. Realizing the opportunity this kind of program could create for youth with disabilities, the USDOL's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) awarded cooperative agreements in September 2009 to The Workplace, Inc. of Bridgeport, Connecticut and the SkillSource Group, Inc. of Vienna, Virginia to provide RA programs for youth with disabilities. The NTAR Leadership Center sat down with Nestor Leon, Assistant Vice President of Programs at The WorkPlace, Inc. to discuss their efforts with this cooperative agreement and their experiences providing RA to youth with disabilities.

Listen to the podcast with Nestor Leon, Assistant Vice President of Programs, The WorkPlace, Inc.
Read a transcript of the podcast

Monday, August 9, 2010

State Spotlight: Ohio

Ohio has been actively exploring ways to implement universal design principles to improve the state's workforce development system, including education and training services, to better meet the diverse needs of job seekers and adult learners, whether they are adults with disabilities, older workers, TANF recipients or others. In May, the NTAR Leadership Center and the Ohio Initiative for Persons with Learning Disabilities facilitated an event, for the state's Adult Basic and Literary Education (ABLE) program, Rehabilitative Services Commission and Job and Family Services staff that introduced them to the concept of Universal Design and its application for adult learners and job seekers. The Program Manager of Ohio's Disability Program Navigator Initiative, Gwen Ivory, and Sharon Reynolds, the Director of Ohio's Center/Southeast ABLE Resource Center at the Edward Stevens Center for the Development of Literacy and Language, both sat down with the NTAR Leadership Center to discuss their state's work with Universal Design.

  • Listen to the podcast with Gwen Ivory, Disability Program Navigator
  • Read a transcript of the podcast

Monday, August 2, 2010

Partner Spotlight: National Network of Sector Partners

Sector initiatives are industry-specific approaches to workforce development and economic development for creating jobs as well as career pathways for job seekers in a particular industry. Sector initiatives generally work with a group of employers in a focused industry, use workforce intermediaries to facilitate the development of workforce solutions to meet employee needs, and work to promote long-standing change that can benefit the industry by providing skilled workers and benefit both the community and workers by providing good jobs. The National Network of Sector Partners (NNSP), the only membership organization in the country to promote sector initiatives, has been working to improve regional economies and enhance employment opportunities for low-income individuals through the promotion of sector initiatives. Under the leadership of Jack Mills, Director of the National Network of Sector Partners (NNSP), and an NTAR Leadership Center Research Advisory Panel member , NNSP is strengthening the sector field by expanding the knowledge base of sector initiatives, advocating for policy support for sector initiatives at the state level, developing new funding models, and exploring new models of sector initiatives. Mr. Mills spoke with us about the benefits of sector initiatives and his work at NNSP.

  • Listen to the podcast with Jack Mills, Director, NNSP
  • Read a transcript of the podcast

Friday, July 16, 2010

Unfinished Business: The ADA Turns 20

This is a guest post from Jeffrey Stoller, Director of Communications and Outreach, John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.

On July 26, the nation will mark the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) being signed into law. It is rightly celebrated as a landmark civil rights bill that has benefited Americans both with and without disabilities.

Looking back over the past two decades, however, it is clear that removing physical barriers to work has not led automatically to meaningful employment opportunities for jobseekers with disabilities. In fact, a June 2010 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that less than 22% of working age Americans with disabilities participate in the current labor force – compared to 70% of those without disabilities.

It seems that the ADA’s success in improving access to workplaces has not guaranteed access to work itself. Assistive technology has helped people with disabilities connect with essential business equipment and information, and ADA design standards have brought ramps, automatic doors and wider corridors to new and renovated buildings nationwide. Yet, far too few jobseekers with marketable skills are being hired.

The issue of finding job opportunities for people with disabilities has become a greater challenge as a “jobless recovery” threatens to emerge from the country’s troubled economy. The scarcity of available jobs has occurred just as the ADA Amendments of 2008 are increasing the number of employees and jobseekers officially defined as “disabled.”

Persistent obstacles to disability employment.
A recent review of the ADA’s impact on employment by Rebecca Hastings of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) warned that many employers may still have an exaggerated sense of the cost of accommodating employees with disabilities. Companies are particularly uneasy about dealing with mental disabilities, or less obvious physical impairments. Others assume that ADA regulations will subject them to discrimination lawsuits for any business decision that adversely impacts their employees.

Interestingly, employers themselves acknowledge that supervisor confusion over ADA accommodation requirements and a failure to recognize a disabled person’s true skill levels are leading barriers to employing job candidates with disabilities. These problems, highlighted in a 2006 study of “Employer ADA Response” by Dr. Susanne Bruyere and colleagues at Cornell University, were especially common in small firms which serve as the leading source of new jobs created within the U.S. economy.

Weak enforcement of ADA employment provisions.
The slow progress in increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities since 1990 may also be traced to a failure to distribute adequate information to covered employers or enforce the laws by government. As the Cornell study suggests, employers of all sizes report a need for more information on complying with ADA provisions, particularly those on how to properly accommodate disabled workers and jobseekers.

At the same time, jobseekers complain that governments have failed to devote sufficient resources to enforcing the employment discrimination laws and other regulations that make workplaces more accessible. For example, inadequate transportation for disabled commuters was a recently highlighted in the Boston Globe (June 28, 2010) in an article describing the failure of local police to ticket drivers who block access to bus stops.

What can be done to make the ADA a more effective tool for promoting disability employment? After 20 years, there is still a compelling need for disability groups to work more closely with employers to explain the relevant laws and encourage ways to introduce workers with disabilities into the incumbent workforce. Internships and programs that train jobseekers in high-demand skills are among the joint projects that employers and advocates can pursue together in order to give businesses the talent they are seeking. Clearly, there are many more years ahead before the ADA’s promise can be fully realized.

Friday, June 18, 2010

State Spotlight: Alaska

The State of Alaska Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education is undertaking a number of promising and innovative initiatives to increase the employment of people with disabilities throughout the state, including a customized entrepreneurship project, START-Up/Alaska (part of the START-Up/USA Initiative). Governor’s Council Executive Director Millie Ryan has over 20 years of experience in disability employment and has previously worked in the vocational rehabilitation field for the state and for multiple nonprofits that provide residential and vocational services to people with disabilities. She spoke with the NTAR Leadership Center about Alaska’s experiences.

  • Listen to the podcast with Millie Ryan, Executive Director, Alaska Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education
  • Read a transcript of the podcast
  • Follow the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education on Twitter
  • Read more about START-Up/Alaska

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Consider the Possibilities of Social Media

This is a guest post from Robb C. Sewell-Wolff, Senior Writer/Editor, John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University

A few months ago, my colleague Savannah Barnett talked about some of the myths surrounding social media and highlighted the value and benefits of social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Hopefully, you’ve taken her words to heart and have braved this new frontier, perhaps poked your toes into what might have been uncharted waters, or maybe even immersed yourself completely in the revolution that is social media.

But what can you use social media to accomplish? In the first part of a two-part blog, I’m going to touch upon five things that you can use social media to do. Then, next week, I’ll follow up with a second blog that looks at a nonprofit organization that is doing amazing things with social media.

So…what can you do with social media?

1. You can start conversations.

Social media isn’t only about you spouting your ideas, thoughts, or opinions. In fact, social media works best when it creates a dialogue between people. It not only allows you the chance to be heard, but gives others the opportunity to let their voices be heard as well. It gives everyone the chance to contribute their opinions and knowledge to a discourse.

2. You can change conversations.

My friends on Facebook will often apologize for “hijacking” a thread I created — that is, taking the conversation off subject into different directions. But that is the beauty of social media. You can be talking about health care reform one minute, and then a dozen exchanges later, the subject has morphed into a discussion about the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t get frustrated if your discussion goes off tangent. Accept it and let the conversations flow naturally. The results may be unexpected and quite rewarding.

3. You can network with others.

Social media allows you the chance to interact with individuals you might never typically encounter. I’m living proof of that fact. Aside from my career at the Heldrich Center, I’m a fiction writer. And I’ve used social media to network with others in publishing. Through social media, I became friends with a novelist and television writer who connected me with her literary agent. A friend on Facebook put me in contact with his brother who just so happens to be the founder of a theatre group in New York City. And now the theatre is willing to read a sample from my play. Frankly, these are networking opportunities I likely would have never made had it not been for social media.

4. You can create communities.

There are all kinds of communities online — for cancer patients and survivors, playwrights, parents of children with autism, and pet owners, to name but a few. These communities enable people to band together to support each other, exchange resources, and share triumphs and struggles. Thanks to web-based programs like Ning, which is available for a fee, anyone can create an online community that will bring together people who might never have the chance to interact and learn from each other.

5. You can make things happen.

Social media allows you another forum to make your goals become a reality. Again, let me share from my personal life. I’m a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2003. Last year, I got involved in the LIVESTRONG Challenge in Philadelphia, an event designed to raise money for cancer. With just six weeks to raise money for a 10-mile bike ride, I turned to Facebook and Twitter to seek financial support from friends, colleagues, and family. My fundraising goal was $250 but thanks to the generous support of many people, I was able to raise over $1,500…and that in the midst of a crippling recession. I wasn’t the only one to use social media to raise funds. Many LIVESTRONG participants did so. The result? Over $3.2 million was raised to fight cancer.

As I conclude, let me challenge you to take some time to think about how social media might benefit your organization. Could you use social media to create a virtual community for your constituents? Think about your funding sources. Are they online? How can you interact with them virtually and, perhaps, build the foundation for future funding? What are you trying to achieve? How can social media help to make your aspirations become reality?

Consider the possibilities and start putting social media to work for you and your organization. The power is in your hands. Are you going to use it?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Partner Spotlight: Eric Seleznow

Eric Seleznow, co-team leader of the NTAR Leadership Center’s State Leaders Innovation Institute’s Maryland team, has served as the Executive Director of Maryland’s Governor’s Workforce Investment Board since 2007. Throughout Eric’s extensive career in workforce development he has overseen the Montgomery County Maryland workforce development system, whose Workforce Investment Boards and One Stop Career Centers serve more than 10,000 people each year. An expert in corrections policy and workforce reentry initiatives, Eric brings a strong and diverse workforce perspective to his work with the State of Maryland and with the NTAR Leadership Center.

  • Listen to the podcast with Eric Seleznow, Executive Director of Maryland’s Governor’s Workforce Investment Board and co-team leader of the Maryland State Leaders Innovation Institute effort
  • Read a transcript of the podcast

Friday, June 11, 2010

One Size Fits All... with Style

This is a guest post from Sheila Fesko, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Community Inclusion

For workforce development professionals who serve people with the most significant barriers to careers, the idea of ‘one size fits all’ service has gotten a bad name. The phrase suggests the most basic sense of workforce development services; a cookie-cutter approach brought to bear on people who require flexibility, creativity and a personal touch. It suggests saving time at the expense of delivering quality services.

When we think of how to make our One Stop Career Centers more efficient, we can’t help but wonder how it is that providing services more efficiency and to a larger number of people can be a bad thing?

The answer is simple, if unfortunate: we seem to have mistaken the need for high volume as an excuse for low quality.

Personally, I like high-volume solutions. I see no reason why the best strategies should not work for the widest possible range of customers. Particularly when economic conditions create an overwhelming demand for workforce development services, and when businesses, similarly, are called upon to operate with the greatest possible efficiency to meet the needs of the shareholders and customers, we have a responsibility to sponsor practices that truly meet the needs of the widest possible range of service-seekers. Perhaps we can call these services ‘One Size Fits All… with Style’.

High quality high volume service invariably means interagency collaboration that allows easy access to all partner services for career-seekers and businesses. It means customer-service mindset in the simplest elements of a One Stop; i.e. signs and marketing materials that reference services that customers will understand, rather than bureaucratic agency titles and regulatory authorities. Finally, it means taking the time – in staff training, service design, and customer welcoming – to ensure we can deliver services quickly, but successfully.

Consider the example of the WorkSource One Stop Career Center in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. More than most, this One Stop took very seriously the idea of seamless, collaborative service delivery. Rather than breaking different agencies in to separate areas of the Center, staff from all partners occupy space adjacent to the customer resource area of the center. When it became clear that using rotating agency schedules to staff the front desk made for sub-standard intake and orientation delivered by staff who would rather have been focusing on their ‘real’ jobs, the partners pooled their resources and hired a dedicated front desk team, whose sole purpose was to guarantee the best possible welcome for every customer who came through the door.

Further, a business services team was formed, again by pooling resources from multiple partners. Staff in this team were assigned sectors – i.e. Health Care, Agriculture, Information Technology, etc. – so that they could learn these industries and their workforce and economic development needs as thoroughly as possible. More than just staff who took job orders from local businesses, these staff become advisers to businesses, central to their growth and direction. With coordination, care and creativity, this One Stop became an engine of economic development.

This example demonstrates the value in:
• collaboration that emphasizes people and services over agency lines,
• a customer service mentality basic to the design and delivery of services, and
• an environment where Workforce Development is an essential aspect of Economic Development.

By orienting ourselves to the strategies that best serve our customers – businesses and career-seekers – we position ourselves to provide the most efficient, effective and impactful services possible. Further, we deliver services that create permanent change for our customers.

What could possibly save more time than that?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ask an Expert: Hawaii's Susan Miller

QUICK QUESTIONS WITH: Susan Miller, Project Director for the Hawaii Medicaid Infrastructure Grant, HireAbilities Hawaii and a faculty member at the Center for Disability Studies at the University of Hawaii

Hire Abilities Hawaii, the state Medicaid Infrastructure Grant, was established in January 2005 to increase competitive employment outcomes for Hawaiians with disabilities, remove barriers to employment, and improve infrastructure in support of working people with disabilities. The NTAR Leadership Center spoke with Susan Miller, Director, about Hawaii’s efforts to promote employment opportunities for artists with disabilities in Hawaii’s large arts and tourism industry.

NTAR Leadership Center: Tell us about your exciting initiative that combines employment for artists with disabilities while promoting the state’s economic efforts to foster local arts and artists. How did you get started?

Susan Miller: In 2002, we responded to a request from the National Endowment for the Arts with Social Security and VSA Arts International to do a state survey on the status of access to careers in the arts for people with disabilities. At the time VSA Arts Hawaii was just reestablishing itself and the University of Hawaii's Center on Disability Studies was supporting that effort. We conducted the survey and found a lot of information that identified systems and institutional barriers for people with disabilities interested in art careers. We had a legislative summit and reported that to our state legislature. When the State of Hawaii applied for a Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (which we called "HireAbilities" ) we included information about our identified career barriers to the arts. The creative and cultural industry sector is a very big workforce sector in our state. It contributes $80 million to our state economy. Because of its size and importance, we felt it was relevant as a focus for employment for people with disabilities. We wanted to really try to get beyond the typically talked about disability employment opportunities.

NTAR Leadership Center: You mentioned Hawaii's large arts, culture, and tourism sector. Can you talk about the work you are doing that benefits people with disabilities, for example, the “100 x 100 Be a Part of Something Big” initiative?

Susan Miller: The “100 x 100” effort was an art show that we had at the 2010 Pacific Rim conference and was a demonstration of our work that we have been doing with the Department of Education. One of the things that our MIG Grant has done is given us the opportunity to work with the state Department of Education, the youth in transition effort and the Carl Perkin's Act Career and Educational Pathways . The art work displayed was a demonstration of the work of young artists that are in a project called Hawaii Arts at Work . Hawaii Arts at Work is a career and technical education program where novice and intermediate artists work to begin their transition to adult communities. They prepare for internships and apprenticeships and different kinds of employment in Hawaii’s creative industry sector.

So, while it may have looked like just your garden variety art show, it really was the culmination of six months of work in an instruction and production studio preparing people to begin to do transitions to apprenticeships and internships in the community through career and technical education pathways through the Department of Education. So, we're really proud of it because it involved the state Department of Education, our state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the school and the family sitting together to develop an IEP (Individualized Education Program). This was important to getting this kind of employment goal into the IEPs. In turn, this gives the students an opportunity to have internships and to be in the work world rather than waiting until they graduate or complete high school and then start sort of scrambling around for work. They have the opportunity to have an internship or an apprenticeship while they're still in high school and can earn credit and, hopefully, it turns into a more permanent job.

NTAR Leadership Center:
In general, what kinds of employers are you working with?

Susan Miller:
On the island of Oahu there is somewhere around 100 organizations, non-profits and different organizations that are connected to what our Division of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism categorized as creative industries. We are talking about the potential of upwards to 100 different arts and cultural industries that are potential placement sites for interns or apprentices in addition to individual master artists that are part of our Hawaii Tourism Authority grants. We are really interested in demonstrating this particular sector because it's really something that's untapped.

We also have a hotel industry, a restaurant industry, and we have a lot of other jobs in other industries that traditionally people with disabilities are sort of aimed towards because it is entry level work and do not require really high skills. We think that there is an enormous opportunity to target creative industries because it's so untapped. There is somewhere upwards to 60 statewide museums that are funded in part by the Federal Government and by the state that have a mission to include people with disabilities in their employment, in their hiring practices. We think that's another untapped area where we can do some job development and placement for internships.

Work and Wellness

Mental Health Month Blog Day Badge

This is a guest post from Jeffrey Stoller, Director of Communications and Outreach, John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development

Many people with disabilities have a special appreciation for how important a job is to a person’s well-being. This feeling comes from long years of experiencing disproportionately high unemployment despite having significant skills to share. It is not just the financial impact of being jobless that matters; there is a high emotional price that is paid as well.

May is a good time to remind the public and policymakers about the special importance of work to people eager to reach beyond their physical and emotional limitations. Every year since 1949, the National Mental Health Alliance (now known as Mental Health America) has designated the month of May as “Mental Health Month”. In May 2010, with millions of Americans out of work for the first time in their careers, this may be a “teachable moment” for many who have never recognized the connection between work and wellness.

The emotional toll of joblessness has been dramatically illustrated by two recent nationwide surveys conducted by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. The Center, which also hosts the NTAR Leadership Center, has tracked the views of American workers for more than a decade through its acclaimed Work Trends survey series. Its research generated headlines worldwide when it conducted a special poll of unemployed American workers just before Labor Day 2009 and again this spring.

The 1,200 jobless workers interviewed for last summer’s Anguish of Unemployment survey used language to describe their situation that would be familiar to anyone with disabilities who has sought – and been denied – an opportunity to work. The respondents described themselves as “discouraged”, “shaken”, “fearful”, “traumatized” and “scared of what will happen.” They reported “feeling worthless” and regretted that that they were “not contributing to family finances”.

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 took a heavy toll on these individuals. Three-quarters of the jobless reported stress in their daily lives, two-thirds reported being depressed, three-fifths felt helpless, and more than half said they were angry. More than half suffered the embarrassment of borrowing money from family or friends, and believed recent changes to the U.S. economy were fundamental and lasting.

Six months later, 900 of the same people expressed similar feelings in a new Heldrich Center survey entitled No End in Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment. Nearly 80% of the jobseekers were still unemployed, and many reported a deep sense of frustration and low esteem due to what they saw as outright discrimination in hiring. In the words of the report’s co-authors, “The inability of these jobseekers to new find opportunities is an economic and cultural disaster.”

So what’s the “good news” here? It seems to me that millions of Americans are experiencing for the first time what it feels to be a skilled person who cannot connect with meaningful work. Few know and understand this feeling better than the many talented people with disabilities who have frequently encountered prospective employers who fail to recognize an applicant’s countless abilities. There is a window of opportunity here: to explain the goals of disability employment to a diverse group that suddenly see the same barriers to work.

Today’s unemployed could be important allies in the fight to expand disability employment in the years ahead. The people made jobless in the current economic downturn include many innovative, highly-trained, highly-educated workers who understand the pain of having their skills overlooked or being offered a substandard wage.

This May, the best way for people with disabilities to celebrate Mental Health Month may be to reach out to other jobseekers. They may find they have a lot in common.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Strategy Spotlight: Accessible Technology

Technology is considered accessible when it can be used just as effectively by people with disabilities, including veterans and those aging into their disability, as by people without disabilities. Advances in computer technology and internet access can bring information, services, and connections not previously available, but it is important to ensure that websites, social media, software, and other technology are available for the benefit of all and that everyone can see, hear, and use them.

Deb Ruh, Founder and CEO of TecAccess, is a major supporter of the rights of people with disabilities and a leading expert in accessible technology. Ms. Ruh serves on several steering committees, is a highly sought after internal and domestic keynote speaker, has authored a number of articles for national publications, has been featured in national media campaigns, and has won numerous awards. Deb is also an active participant in Virginia’s efforts to significantly improve the employment of Virginias with disabilities. Her company, TecAccess, has also been honored with several awards, including the prestigious U.S. Department of Labor’s Presidential New Freedom Initiative Award.

- Listen to the podcast with Deb Ruh, Founder and CEO, TecAccess
- Read a transcript of the podcast
- Visit the TecAccess website for more information and accessible technology resources

Friday, May 14, 2010

About Disability Employment

This is a guest post from Robert B. Nicholas, Ph.D., Senior Visiting Fellow for Disability Research, John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.

I coordinate the research agenda and provide technical assistance for the NTAR Leadership Center. My background is an almost forty year career in the planning and administration of services and supports for people with disabilities. I have been part of the transition of people with disabilities from institutions to communities. I have participated in the growth of supported employment from its infancy and provided technical assistance to an ODEP Customized Employment Grant. I continue to be inspired by the capability of people with disabilities to work and the often dramatic improvement in quality of life which results from employment.

It is from the perspective of a disability system professional that I was moved by the call to arms from my colleague and friend Lisa Stern in her January blog. In reference to disability employment services, she says “It’s not working” and concludes that we need to be exploring new approaches. I agree whole heartedly. This isn’t to say that we haven’t made fundamental progress in the employment of people with disabilities. In fact, across the nation there are rich examples of people with diverse disabilities working at skilled, complex jobs. They have shown conclusively that people with disabilities want to work when given opportunities and appropriate supports and can be a valuable resource to employers in meeting their workforce needs. Our challenge is to replicate these possibilities for the unacceptably high percentage of people with disabilities not currently included in the nation’s workforce.

The NTAR Leadership Center is pursuing important new directions in the employment of people with disabilities in response to this challenge. The Center is fostering the inclusion of people with disabilities in workforce planning and generic workforce services systems. The Center is aware that a growing number of the nation’s leading employers have recognized the “business case” for employing people with disabilities and have established disability recruitment initiatives. Accordingly, the Center is highlighting effective strategies for collaboration between the disability and generic services systems to support employers to meet their workforce needs through the recruitment and retention of employees with disabilities. The NTAR Leadership Center’s approach is consistent with the fundamental value driving change in disability systems; full inclusion of people with disabilities in our nation’s communities.

It is important to note that the NTAR Leadership Center’s efforts do not compete with other important disability employment efforts such as Customized Employment, Medicaid Infrastructure Grants, and Employment First initiatives. Indeed, effective, well coordinated disability system supports are essential to the success of employer recruitment efforts. I believe strongly, however, that progress in increasing the workforce participation rates of people with disabilities will be employer driven and based on the “business case.”

Friday, May 7, 2010

Strategy Spotlight: Using New Media to Collaborate and Build Partnerships

Social media tools are becoming ever present and proving to be an effective way to build collaborations and partnerships and disseminate research and knowledge. From Facebook and LinkedIn to Twitter, blogs, Google Buzz, and video and photo sharing platforms, limitless opportunities are available to start a conversation and engage with your audience and peers.

In a recent podcast, DiscoverAbility NJ project coordinator Michele Martin discussed lessons she’s learned from social media work and best practices for governments and nonprofits.

  • Listen to the podcast with Michele Martin, DiscoverAbility NJ Project Coordinator
  • Visit Michele's blog, “The Bamboo Project," for many more social media resources

Friday, April 30, 2010

Partner Spotlight: Karen McCulloh

Karen McCulloh is a recognized leader in the field of disability employment. As a registered nurse who found difficulty in regaining employment after her disability, she established her own consulting firm and a new field of nursing – Community Health Disability Education.

Ms. McCulloh’s drive and passion led to her position as the Executive Director of disabilityworks, an Illinois statewide initiative targeted to increasing the employment of people with disabilities and to “inspire sound employer-to-employee relationships.”

In her tremendous career, Karen has served as a Department of Labor federal appointee, as the Chair of the Disability Subcommittee of the National Job Corps Advisory Committee and on President Obama’s transition team. The NTAR Leadership Center is proud to have Karen on our Technical Assistance Advisory Panel.

- Listen to the podcast with Karen McCulloh
- Read a transcript of the podcast

Thursday, April 29, 2010

State Spotlight: District of Columbia

The District of Columbia has been working to create a strong and sustaining “Employment Alliance” to promote better employment outcomes for DC residents with disabilities. Under the leadership of Judith Heumann, the Director of the Department on Disability Services (DDS), the District has been busy bringing together leaders in workforce development, economic development, the business community, and disability organizations to establish better linkages for residents with disabilities to jobs available in the federal government, with federal contractors, and in high-growth industries in the area such as health care, hospitality, and professional services.

To this end, District officials are actively engaged in a number of initiatives, including
  1. Creating a “community of excellence in customized employment” designed to build the capacity of DC government and private provider staff to effectively use customized employment practices,
  2. Sponsoring a Project Search model for transitioning youth in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor and, soon, other federal agencies,
  3. Enhancing collaborations with local employers through a partnership with the District of Columbia's Business Leadership Network,
  4. Strengthening its labor market "intelligence" through development of a process to better educate vocational rehabilitation counselors and others on how to access and use Labor Market Information, and
  5. Putting in place new strategies to increase the number of training and ”to work” options available to residents such as internships, through sector-based job training and/or small business development.

Listen to the audio podcast interview with Judith Heumann, Director of the District of Columbia’s Department on Disability Services

Read the transcript of the interview

View a PowerPoint presentation about Project Search, the District's school-to-career project for youth with disabilities, and a collaborative program with the U.S. Department of Labor. This program is the first of its kind in the federal government.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Life at Rutgers

This is a guest post from Junior Rutgers University Student and NTAR Leadership Center Intern Radhiya Abdul-Raheem

In this academic school year, I’ve turned over a new leaf. I’ll admit that being the youngest in my family I’ve gotten used to having my hand extended, waiting for my wants and needs to be handed to me. I could not help it. Thankfully, I wasn’t spoiled to the extent where I wouldn’t reach the point in my life where I am today.

This school year has brought a relentless characteristic out of me, the quality of leadership. From experience, I’ve learned that possessing the quality of leadership leaves me no room to be spoon-fed. I have taken on new responsibilities since the start of the fall semester. After seeing a friend of mine struggle to keep a student-run publication afloat as editor-and-chief, I decided to extend my position as photographer of the newspaper to co-editor and treasurer. I did this mostly because I hated to witness a paper with such a rich history fall below the radar. I also was faced with a dilemma on campus involving the transportation bus system. Without getting into great detail, I was put in the position where the revised bus route was hindering my wheelchair access to the bus stop across the street from my on campus apartment. I, once again, took the courage to actually project my concerns, something I usually would leave for others to do for me. After making my rights and concerns known to administrators and after getting my peers involved, I got want I wanted, which was equal access to the campus bus that is meant for the use of all Rutgers students. After reaping the fruits of my labor, I felt proud and I felt visible. For those who have been overlooked know very well how that was victorious for me. These accomplishments come at the eve of another stepping stone.

I was interested in interning at NTAR because it is dedicated to increasing the self-reliance of persons with disabilities. I was intrigued at the fact that I can take part in the self-reliance of others such as myself who may find it hard to be truly independent in an imperfect society that is not fully prepared for them. Having this position has allowed me to further exercise the leader inside of me that I have suppressed for so long (and it continues to be a work in progress). My leadership has taught me not to be afraid to make sure my voice is heard. Fittingly, this is the focus of NTAR’s mission.

Before my time at NTAR is concluded I hope to gain a ruthless drive for bettering the lives of people with disabilities.

Friday, April 16, 2010


This is a guest post from Elaine Katz, Vice President of Grant Programs and Special Initiatives, Kessler Foundation

Ah springtime! Its arrival heralds everything new. But the promise of renewal is quickly tempered by the realities of our “new normal”, diminished federal and state budgets for July implementation and a scarcity of private funding.

Collaborations, agreements between two or more organizations to work together, are a solution for leveraging dollars within tight budgets. The real benefit is extending public or private dollars to capitalize on economies of scale and avoiding duplication of services. Typically used in projects that are ambitious, such as those serving a large geographic area and target population, collaborations can also be effective for smaller organizations, with proper planning.

Although simple in concept, forming a successful collaboration is difficult. Making sure it works is even harder. Picking a project and writing a detailed strategic game plan can be accomplished rather competently and quickly by most organizations. Choosing partners isn’t too difficult either. Most organizations can readily select partners from a known pool of agencies. Often it’s figuring out how to work effectively together that’s the tricky part.

As a first step, it’s best to opt for a formal “MOU”, a written memo of understanding among the partners, such as the formal agreement the National Organization on Disabilities (NOD) has with the US Army for their Army Wounded Warriors (AW2) Careers Demonstration Project. Partner cash commitments, in-kind contributions, organizational responsibilities, and/or identifying sources of additional funding, are just some of the details that must be clearly delineated. All project collaborators need to determine in advance their role in project outcomes and set rules on how to deal with non-performance. In this example, NOD began with the concept of linking soldiers with significant disabilities to employment and other related services upon returning to their local communities, following medical discharge. Recognizing the value of this one-to-one approach, the US Army signed a memo of understanding with NOD, enabling NOD’s Career Specialists to partner with the army’s AW2 advocates. Using seed funding from Kessler Foundation, NOD began reaching out to national and local funding partners in Texas, Colorado and North Carolina, sites for the initial pilot projects. A partnership was also initiated with the Economic Mobility Corporation to provide data and evaluation services.

Establishing new project collaborations based on verbal commitments can also be successful, especially if partners have previously worked together. Cornell University’s Disability and Employment Institute recently joined with the New Jersey Society of Human Resource Managers (NJSHRM) to create a new collaborative model for employers and social service providers aimed at increasing employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities, with funding from Kessler Foundation. Each organization held defined roles – NJSHRM organized the workshops for its members throughout New Jersey, while Cornell staff facilitated the program and designed online tutorials. Additional community partners helped coordinate meetings for job development professionals at local social service agencies. In this case, Cornell and NJSHRM successfully educated human resource managers and non-profit professionals. On the other hand, verbal agreements are the easiest to fall apart, especially when one partner does not complete or fulfill agreed upon tasks.

As reduced public and private funding continue to affect the organizational budgets, forming collaborations can be a valuable tool. With a little creativity and careful planning, collaboration can help your organization create new programs or sustain current projects.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Employment First

This is a guest post from Wendy Parent, Research Associate Professor and Assistant Director, Lawrence Site, Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities, NTAR National Research Advisory Panel Member

Employment First is an exciting new public policy that is gaining increased momentum at the state and federal levels. It establishes the idea that integrated competitive employment is the first option for all individuals regardless of disability level or support needs. This is significant in that it changes the way we think and overtime changes the way we do things with funding streams and service delivery practices eventually following suit.

To date, numerous states have implemented some type of Employment First activity. These include: Minnesota, Oklahoma, Georgia, Washington, Tennessee, California, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana, Colorado, Vermont, Delaware, Iowa, and Kansas. Efforts have focused upon conferences, summits, publications, training and technical assistance, agency goals and mission statements, and policies and legislation. Kansas has recently submitted an Employment First Bill, H.R. 2669, which has passed the House and is currently in the Senate for vote. This landmark piece of legislation establishes that “…competitive and integrated employment of persons with disabilities in communities of Kansas shall be the first priority in the state…” and creates an oversight commission for monitoring and accountability.

The Employment First Bill introduced in Kansas represents the culmination of a series of major activities and multiple peoples’ involvement. The original impetus was the result of contract negations between the state funding agencies and provider organizations including self-advocates in which “employment first” language was added. A task force of key stakeholders was appointed and the outcome of their work was an Initial Report and Recommendations. The concept was rolled out for the legislature at a reception conducted at the beginning of their session with presentations from several individuals with disabilities who talked about their employment experiences, an employer, and a researcher who discussed employment outcomes in Kansas. Information sharing and networking for professionals, families, and individuals with disabilities is proposed at a two-day Kansas Employment First Summit to be held in the near future with an impressive line-up of national speakers and ending with a Conversation with the Governor’s Cabinet Secretaries and Directors.

Why emphasize work? Research shows that employers express positive attitudes toward workers with disabilities and are willing to hire employees with extensive support needs when they receive competent services from disability employment programs (Katz & Luecking, 2009). Individuals with disabilities themselves, tell us they want to work and have made employment their priority (Alliance for Full Participation, 2009; The Riot, 2007). Furthermore, supported and customized employment strategies are effective at meeting the hiring needs of the employer and the support needs of the employee resulting in a cost-efficient alternative to sheltered work and day services (Cimera, 2008; Office of Disability Employment Policy, 2005; Wehman, Inge, Revell, & Brooke, 2007).

Why Employment First? Nationally, the number of individuals participating in sheltered work and day services continues to rise. In Kansas and many other states, the majority of their dollars are spent on funding these segregated programs for the very population of people for whom supported and customized employment strategies were developed and have proven to be effective. Multiple systemic issues contribute to the problem. A federal and/or statewide employment first policy would begin to shift these outcomes by establishing integrated competitive employment as the first option for people with disabilities. No one agency or organization can do it alone. Employment First would put everyone on the same agenda, working towards the same goal, with integrated competitive employment as the expected outcome and the focus of limited resources. A collaborative effort will direct our attention to the challenges we must address in order to make these outcomes a reality for all citizens with disabilities. Employment First could potentially be the change we need.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Don’t Be Afraid of Social Media!

This is a guest post from Savannah Barnett, Research Coordinator, NTAR Leadership Center

Sure, we all know the myths about social media: it’s for teenagers, it’s for telling people about what you had for lunch, it’s vacuous and a waste of time. These myths are being reinforced by employers who block access to these sites and don’t let their employees participate. While it is true that many people (including young people) have private Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts , these resources can be deployed strategically to better market the services that governments and nonprofits provide, inform the public about news, legislative and regulatory change, and new research and resources.

In my role at the NTAR Leadership Center I help coordinate this blog, our twitter account, and our Facebook page. In this capacity I sometimes encounter people who seem dismayed, overwhelmed, and alarmed at the possibility of engaging, sharing resources, and expressing their policy views in these online forums for a variety of reasons.

Social media is a great way to share resources and increase collaboration and coordination with colleagues, clients, and others who are interested in your work. Unfortunately not all companies (and especially not all government agencies) are embracing these positive resources that can extend the reach of an organization and contribute greatly to staff professional development.

One myth about social media is that employees cannot be trusted to fairly represent an organization online. I want state policymakers, leaders of nonprofits, and jobseekers to know that there is nothing to be afraid of! If you speak to colleges around the office water cooler or make new contacts at a conference, you can absolutely meaningfully engage in online social networking in ways that promote collaboration, coordination, and your own professional development.

If your role is nonpartisan, simply stay away from expressing partisan activity online as you do in person. If there are confidential aspects of work, keep them confidential online, just like you do in person. If you are in a position to issue a social media policy for your organization, encourage the use of good judgment, authenticity, and value to your online presence. (For more information on social media policies see

Another common myth is that social media will be a waste of time and will monopolize staff time. If part of your role as an organization is to communicate anything to anyone you should consider the monetary and time savings that can be had through online mechanisms. Twitter lets you instantly track feedback about your organization or agency, blogs let you get the word out about current issues, and Facebook and LinkedIn are great ways to build networks. Posting resources on these sites is much quicker than engaging in separate outreach activities for multiple constituencies and incredibly faster than relying on print. Additionally, many of these resources can be accessed on cell phones and other portable devices quickly.

If you’re still not entirely convinced about actively engaging in social media activity, consider participating passively at first. By watching a twitter feed or belonging to a LinkedIn group you get resources right at your fingertips, with very little effort. Just sign up for an account, start following a few people, and let the information flow in.

For those of you who are curious about new forms of interaction go ahead, step a bit outside of your comfort zone and sign up for these free services. While you’re there don’t forget to follow the NTAR Leadership Center on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Scary Realities and Practical Solutions

According to a recent report issued by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, the labor market, workforce and educational system are undergoing significant changes in the first decade of the 21st century. With widespread unemployment at all levels of education, longer than usual time spent now looking for a job, and declining heath care coverage, it is no surprise that the Heldrich report highlights how very dissatisfied people are with both their personal economic circumstances as well as the country’s.

At the same time, state budgets and state workforces are suffering as well -- teetering on the point of going broke or broken. To respond to taxpayers cries for less government, lower taxes and to keep states from going bankrupt, federal and state law makers are desperately looking for fresh solutions to cutting costs and getting Americans back to work. The jobs crisis and state budget crises demands immediate attention, but need solutions that are practical and evidence based, and that mutually help job seekers and employers.

Jobseekers (including those with disabilities) need solutions that provide them with a paycheck first and foremost, along with a work experience and the ability to acquire skills and education if that paycheck is not from a full time job. Employers need solutions that can get them access to qualified workers at wages and benefits they can afford. As seen in the recent increases in part time and temporary workers, employers continue to remain reluctant to make permanent hires because of doubts about the recovery’s durability, and still remain skittish about the escalating costs of health care and the uncertainty of health care reform.

As for public policy makers charged with creating and implementing solutions, they need strategies that are low cost and high volume; that are easy to implement with a minimum degree of complexity and that promise to yield a moderate degree of success (meaning jobs) for hundreds, if not thousands of people. What state policy makers cannot afford these days are boutique programs, untested initiatives or further policies that research demonstrates don’t yield big results for either the unemployed or employers. They also can’t afford programs that are high cost and low volume; that require lots of complex moving parts to implement, that require low paid front line workers to develop new, higher skills in order to make it work, and where employment is realized for only tens of people, not in the hundreds and thousands needed to make a dent in the unemployment rate.

The $15 billion jobs bill passed by the Senate and the House is sadly likely to be much ado about nothing. The bill, which includes tax breaks to businesses to hire, will have a negligible effect on employment rates – especially among people with disabilities. In fact, evidence from the Work Opportunity and Welfare-to-Work Tax Credits points out that these employer tax breaks for new hires have suffered from poor participation and have not had any meaningful effect on employment rates among the disadvantaged (Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, 2005), despite what is seen as large potential benefits to firms. And for people with disabilities who have been routinely shut out of a robust labor market, much less one in recession, hiring credits are unlikely to yield any benefits at all.

Economists and academics have suggested other solutions that would put ‘jobs’ back in a credible job creation strategy. These include expanding summer youth employment programs, and deploying time-limited employment programs for public purposes in public and nonprofit agencies. These also include transitional job programs such as on-the-job training or OJT in private firms and nonprofits, and paid work experience programs such as through internships and apprenticeships. Other promising strategies, some more complex and longer to implement, include stimulating small business development including seeding and supporting ‘real businesses’ through nonprofits.

Any successful national jobs strategy must provide mutual support to jobseekers need for work and income, and businesses need to stay in business. Only if these two needs are met can communities prosper and our nation thrive. The current job bill falls far short.

Kathy Krepcio
Director, NTAR Leadership Center

Friday, March 5, 2010

Introducing the Disability Supplier Diversity Program (DSDP)

Across the country, minority-owned and female-owned businesses have had a competitive advantage because they provide other businesses with the ability to achieve diversity goals. Until now, that same advantage was not available to businesses that were owned and operated by people with disabilities. Two key organizations have partnered to make sure that those competitive advantages are made also available to disabled-owned businesses through the Disability Supplier Diversity Program (DSDP).

The New Jersey Business Leadership Network (NJBLN), a program of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation, has entered into a partnership with the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) to promote and develop the Disability Supplier Diversity Program (DSDP). The DSDP is a process that produces a credential certifying a business as disabled-owned, thus enhancing that company’s ability to compete for contracts from companies seeking to increase their supplier diversity.

The DSDP was created and launched by the USBLN in response to feedback from the business community that indicated a third-party certification credential would be a mechanism they could use to increase their supplier diversity.

Required supporting documentation includes business contact, capabilities, historical, financial and governance information. There is an annual recertification process as certification is valid for one year. Site visits take place at a minimum of every third year.

The USBLN is in the last phase of piloting and verifying the credentialing process and has partnered with the NJBLN to participate in the pilot, and promote the program in the state of New Jersey. Three New Jersey businesses are currently being vetted through the DSDP process.

If you are a disability owned business or know of an owner of such a business and would like more information on DSDP, please contact Patty Cullinane at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation (908-975-3211) or via e-mail (

Patty Cullinane
Director, Business Development
NJ Chamber of Commerce Foundation/NJBLN

The NJBLN and USBLN are employer-led organizations committed to enhancing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. The NJBLN is a state affiliate of the national USBLN.

USDOL/ODEP Releases 4 Step Guide

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy releases a four step guide to recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees with disabilities.

Topics include:
  • Incentives & ROI
  • Recruiting
  • Interviewing & Hiring
  • Achieving Workplace Success
  • Retaining Valued Employees
  • Links & Resources

View the PDF version of Diversifying Your Workforce or order hard copies.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Veterans Green Jobs

Veterans Green Jobs is addressing our nation’s energy and environmental security challenges through utilizing one of our Nation’s greatest natural leadership resources: the veteran population. By doing this, VGJ hopes to replicate the camaraderie, intensity, and meaning of work that our service members experienced in uniform service in their civilian lives.

We started our work with our first cohort in April of 2009. Looking at a picture of this first group, you could not point to the individuals struggling with post traumatic stress issues, the individual with symptoms of traumatic brain injury, those veterans who were once homeless, or the young combat veteran and single father who has only 52% of his lung capacity due to injuries received at war. In other words, you could not look at the picture and pick out the veteran who was or was not disabled. Disabled is defined by the 1990 American with Disabilities Act as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.

From the beginning, VGJ has been serving disabled veterans and believes that regardless of a disability being visibly noticed or not, our veterans coming back from service or war who are disabled need to have the same opportunities and possibilities afforded them that any veteran returning to a life outside of uniform is afforded. Unfortunately, our country has failed since the Vietnam era to welcome properly home any veteran and those with disabilities face additional challenges. As a group, veterans face a troubling picture painted through higher levels of homelessness, incarceration, drug use, violence, unemployment, and suicide than the non-veteran population.

Working through the vehicle of green jobs and cohort based training we believe veterans, regardless of disability, can take a leadership role in securing America’s energy security and repaint the veteran experience in a decidedly more positive light. VGJ is working with many different partners, including NTAR, to ensure that we do not leave any veteran behind and that all of our programs are as universal in design and delivery for maximum inclusion.

We are also working on a joint project with the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), the Colorado Historic Society, and the Homelake Foundation to create the Nation’s first disabled veterans green jobs training center. This project aims to convert a portion of the Homelake Veterans Center outside Monte Vista, Colorado to become this needed facility. Our hope over the next three to four years is to implement a phased facility renovation program creating residential, instruction, and community facilities on the site. These will integrate universal and renewable energy and green building principles already underway at the site. Part of the intended use of these facilities is to create active and regular opportunities for engagement with the larger local community. Disabled veterans will be key participants and workers in the further creation and construction of this vision.

I encourage anyone reading this blog post who has additional interest in our programs, or any ideas, resources, comments, contacts, or questions about our work in general and the Homelake project specifically, to visit our website to learn more. Please also comment here, or contact me directly about how we can together achieve our vision of not leaving any veteran behind

Stacy Bare
Director of Operations and National Programs

Veterans Green Jobs

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Strategies for Growing Jobs Must Include an Economic Recovery for People with Disabilities

In the past several weeks, Governors from California to New York have announced job creation initiatives and strategies that have included helping small businesses stay open and hire new staff; that look to recruit and retain industries vital to they state’s economy; that effect greater diversity in their state economies beyond traditional crucial industries; and that put a new imperative on workforce/education training to develop skilled workers to match industry needs.

While I remain optimistic that our nation’s Governors as well as President Obama have a renewed focus on jobs, it is highly likely that jobseekers with disabilities will remain marginalized when it comes to who benefits from publicly funded job investments. That is, unless there is persistent attention directed at insuring their inclusion in federal and state “Main Street" economic efforts.

For Americans with disabilities, the unemployment numbers over the years speak for themselves - they have never been part of any real economic recovery. What I see is decades of unemployment, underemployment, poverty and significant exclusion from the competitive labor market – in part enabled by out-of-date, exclusionary public policies and labor market practices.

For Americans with disabilities, gaining any significant job opportunities from the President’s first stimulus package or new gubernatorial strategies remains to be seen. A scan of grantees receiving green jobs training funds shows that less than a handful identified people with disabilities as a target population for training. A scan of state plans outlining new job creation strategies mention special initiatives to create job pathways for welfare recipients, youth, food stamp recipients and laid off workers, but with the exception of disabled veterans, no mention of insuring that all Americans have equal access to these opportunities.

In order to insure that Americans with disabilities, who want to work, can benefit from these new state and federal job creation investments, we should not be afraid to let our White House and our State Houses know that a jobs program for all should mean all. And that means improving who gets access to new publicly financed skills training, education, and jobs. Much more can be accomplished in new job creation strategies than just putting some people back to work. Federal and state officials have a tremendous opportunity to create, along with jobs, new policies and practices that removes barriers to work, and creates better access to jobs so that people with disabilities can truly participate in an economic recovery.

Kathy Krepcio
, NTAR Leadership Center

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

State Updates

Last October, Seeding Change featured Maryland's effort to develop multi-agency strategies to ensure that the talents of Marylanders with disabilities are included in state plans to prepare for job growth resulting from the expansion of military bases under their Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) initiative. Since that time, Maryland has held several career expos and workshops for people with disabilities looking for BRAC-related employment, contracted with an AmeriCorps volunteer to conduct outreach to college students with disabilities, and developed and issued fact sheets on security clearances, universal design, asset development, and base realignment and closure.

- Read the Maryland Fact Sheet: Security Clearances: What is a Security Clearance and Why Should I Obtain One?
- Read the Maryland Fact Sheet: Universal Design for Housing
- Read the Maryland Fact Sheet: Asset Development: Why Asset Development?
- Read the Maryland Fact Sheet: Base Realignment
- View information about the 2010 Essential Workplace Skills Webinar Series

Also highlighted in the fall were the Commonwealth of Virginia's efforts to facilitate stronger collaboration among members of its business, economic development, workforce development, and disability and rehabilitation communities. In November, Virginia released the final report from its Governor's Forum on Disability and Economic Development, which was distributed to all Forum participants, state agencies, and the Virginia General Assembly.

- View the Virginia Governor's Forum on Disability and Economic Development final report titled "Virginia's Call to Action."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Looking Back

Did you know that since 2007, the NTAR Leadership Center has:

  • Conducted more than 14 training webinars on such topics as blending and braiding resources, sector strategies, understanding and using labor market information, understanding customized employment practices, and asset development, as well as myriad topics related to leadership, partnership building, and collaboration. View these archived webinars.
  • Grown the number of states in its State Peer Leaders Network (SPLN) to 24. The SPLN now includes Alaska, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. For more information about how to join the SPLN, or to request technical assistance from the NTAR Leadership Center consortium members, visit our state Peer Leaders Network page.
  • Conducted six surveys asking states in our SPLN about their efforts on outcome measurement, sector strategies, economic stimulus funding, Workforce Investment Act (WIA) reauthorization, self-employment, and states as model employers of people with disabilities. View summary reports of these surveys.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Leadership Spotlight: Megan Juring

Megan Juring has been a tremendous public policy leader in the field of disability employment policy. She currently serves as the Assistant Secretary of Olmstead Activities at the California Health and Human Services Agency and has extensive experience both in the workforce field as well as in the disability field. Megan is also the co-chair of the NTAR Leadership Center's Technical Assistance Panel, where her real-world experience and expertise are invaluable to helping shape and direct the technical assistance that the NTAR Leadership Center provides. In her role with the State of California, she has not only been active in workforce issues but also with issues surrounding the challenges of an aging population and helped develop a plan to address the unique needs of citizens with Alzheimer's disease within the state. Megan's leadership has also helped ensure success for AB 1269, a bill that expanded Medi-Cal eligibility limits to allow more people with disabilities to earn and save without fear of lost coverage.

Listen to the audio podcast interview with Megan Juring about the importance of peer learning and the challenges of driving change in a tough state economic climate.

Read the transcript of the interview.

View a video of Megan speaking about her role as co-chair of the NTAR Leadership Center's Technical Assistance Panel.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Every Willing Heart

In his inaugural address just over a year ago, President Obama said something that resonated deeply: “The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

As the nation starts to crawl out of its deep economic hole, it might seem counter intuitive to talk about disability employment. But a large body of evidence and a growing public policy consensus suggest that the president is right: it’s in the nation’s best interest for everyone to work.

That notion is articulated in the value proposition adopted by Minnesota’s SLII team: We need everyone in the workforce for businesses to thrive and communities to prosper. This is the organizing principle of the Minnesota team’s work.

Our work assumes that employers will recognize that it is in their own best interest to seek out "every willing heart" from populations that have long been under-represented in the workplace. This belief represents a vision of workplace flexibility (or customization) that provides accommodations, maximizes productivity, changes workplace experiences and attitudes, and reconfigures the composition of the workforce, perhaps dramatically, and perhaps forever.

New hiring policies might, for example, distinguish between “qualified” workers (who meet specific and rigid job requirements) and “quality” workers (who maybe wouldn't meet rigid qualification tests, but who would demonstrate flexibility, trainability and eagerness to work). Policies like that very likely would bring new workers into the workplace rather than erecting barriers that keep them out. That would indeed be a historic change.

A couple of years ago Minnesota employment planners identified a number of workforce issues that state government will be forced to address soon. Minnesota, like the rest of the nation, has an aging workforce, accelerating retirements, and a looming shortage of people who have the education, skills and training to fill key government positions. The planners also identified several underutilized populations in the workforce and outlined strategies to include those populations—including people with disabilities—in the state's workforce planning.

One of several responses to these findings was an executive branch initiative to make Minnesota a model employer of people with disabilities. The idea was to create an expectation—not a hope or a wish or a request, but an expectation—that all state hiring managers would be both intentional and proactive in recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. The results, while admittedly modest in numerical terms, have nonetheless raised dramatically the profile of disability employment in state government. In the first couple of years, the model employer initiative generated about 100 new government internships, apprenticeships and part-time or full-time jobs for people with disabilities. In a state workforce that comprises some 40,000 employees, that's a small but very real shift. The early results of this initiative show great promise, and it appears likely that the trend will continue as more and more employees retire from public service.

The reality of workforce shortages for everyone is becoming increasingly dire. Employers will have to compete, as never before, for skilled workers. Attitudes toward hiring people with disabilities are changing, and public policy is shifting in the direction ensuring employment for every willing heart. Not, as President Obama said, out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

John Fisher
Public Affairs Director, Vocational Rehabilitation Services
Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development