Bethesda, MD – Governors around the country are expanding their efforts to enable people with disabilities to achieve the American dream. More than one in five Americans have a disability. Currently 70% of working age (18-64) Americans with disabilities are outside of the work force and more than nine million working of them are living on government benefits. Polls show that the majority want to work. Millions nationally have been trapped in poverty and isolation for decades. Now, thanks to Governors, things are starting to get better.
The wave of progress was initiated by Gov. Jack Markell when he recently served as chair of the National Governor’s Association (NGA). During his NGA term he created “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities,” a blueprint that identified best practices and outlined steps that can be put in place by businesses and states to increase employment of people with disabilities. Gov. Markell is continuing this powerful work in his own state and around the country to enable people with disabilities to get jobs and achieve the American dream. This bipartisan initiative demonstrates coordination and collaboration across party lines. Indeed, important work is also being done by other Governors, including:
Much can be learned from the approach to these issues in Delaware where Governor Markell and Delaware’s Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services Rita Landgraf have focused like laser beams on finding win-win solutions for employers and potential employees with disabilities. They started with a major summit, where they brought together top business leaders, advocates from the disability community, foundations and other leaders to brainstorm and implement solutions. They understood from day one that real change will take strong public-private partnerships driven by meeting the needs of employers for successful and reliable talent.
Delaware is also utilizing options available through the Medicaid program to expand community resources and services to create Pathways to Employment. The focus is on supporting individuals age 14 to 25 to assist individuals to explore and plan career paths. Pathways will include services such as on the job supports, transportation, personal care, orientation and mobility, assistive technology and other services are all important to enhance employment for both the individual and employer.
The Health Care Association made up of Delaware’s hospitals has signed on to the Governor’s initiative and is developing internships, expanding PROJECT SEARCH and building recruitment from these efforts into employment.
The University of Delaware, in collaboration with the State of Delaware, conducted a comprehensive survey of state employees to determine the needs of the State, as an employer, with respect to evaluating the attitudes of and hiring practices toward state employees with disabilities. The two key areas that were identified as a need in response to this survey were: a. HR training initiatives related to disability awareness and, b. refinement of state hiring practices/systems for recruiting qualified applicants with disabilities. Both of these areas are discussed in further detail below as the State of Delaware continues to make progress in the employment of persons with disabilities.
State of Delaware Hiring Practices – Selective Placement:
The State Office of Management and Budget in collaboration with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Division for the Visually Impaired in Delaware has diligently worked to ensure that the Selective Placement program is one practical hiring option for individuals with disabilities who seek employment in state government. Selective Placement is a mechanism by which a qualified individual with a disability can apply, be screened, and matched for a state job with an expedited hiring process in place for the hiring managers within the State of Delaware. Though the Selective Placement program has been in place for many years, it was Governor Markell’s initiative of employing people with disabilities that heightened awareness in our state government workforce to the aptitude and abilities that people with disabilities bring to the workplace. Beginning in 2013 the State of Delaware began to re-examine the selective placement process to determine if it was designed to maximize employment outcomes for persons with disabilities as it had been determined to be underutilized in the past. In addition, the State Non Profit organizations, who work closely with DVR and DVI received training on the Selective Placement Program in order to assist in qualifying eligible applicants.
• For better understanding and to support the Selective Placement Program, OMB developed a training video on their website entitled “Untapped Talent Ready to Work”. The training is for viewing for anyone who has access to a computer and a web browser. The video gives an overview of how misrepresented people with disabilities are in today’s workforce and the accomplishments gained from utilizing this untapped and underutilized resource.
•OMB has also developed a user friendly webpage which provides information about Selective Placement for Job Seekers including how to become certified, meeting the requirements, the applications process and who to contact for questions. The site also provides the user with links that navigate directly to the online application including instructions.
HR Training Initiatives:
The State of Delaware is in the process of developing and piloting an online class that will be available to all State employees, which will also be required for all hiring managers as a prerequisite for additional classroom training. The class topics shall include:
Gov. Markell launched a partnership in Delaware that illustrates the potential for putting more people with disabilities to work. The state helped bring together the IT firm CAI and an international organization called Specialisterne, which is dedicated to employment of individuals with autism. CAI, a company that employs thousands of people across the country, is committed to hiring people who have Autism for more than 3% of its workforce by 2015, recognizing that these individuals are especially qualified for technology roles like software testing, data quality assurance, programming, data mining and data entry. Markell has advanced the Specialisterne model within his administration and several departments have hired or are actively recruiting through Specialisterne.
Governor Markell’s initiative created a major spark in Delaware’s Department of Labor with an increase of 8.6 % of individuals with disabilities becoming actively employed from 2011 to 2013. Delaware has seen an increase in the number of employers engaged and in the number of individuals with disabilities actively seeking employment.
There is an important place for government benefits as a safety net for those who cannot work. But, employment achieves what benefits never can: selfespect, dignity and a real chance to achieve the American dream. Governors around the country are starting to understand that we cannot afford to have talented Americans sit at home when they want to help make America stronger. As a nation we need people with disabilities in the competitive workforce at fair, competitive wages. Every American who can work should be encouraged to do so.
Where the Federal Government may lack consensus, many Governors throughout the country are working to implement policy that will benefit the economy and persons with disabilities. Their efforts should be lauded throughout the country, and the success that follows should provide example to businesses and policy-makers that “A Better Bottom Line” is attainable through fiscal and social responsibility.