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.”