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.

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