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