National Disability Employment Awareness Month

RSA Commissioner Janet LaBreckThe following blog is a cross-post from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) blog. The blog is written by OSERS’ Rehabilitation Services Administration Commissioner Janet LaBreck.

In recognition of National Disability Employment Month, I would like to share some exciting new opportunities for the vocational rehabilitation (VR) program, which is authorized by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 under Title IV of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). As you know, WIOA was signed into law by President Obama on July 22, 2014 and is designed to strengthen and improve our nation’s public workforce system and help Americans with significant barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities, obtain high quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers. The changes to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 under Title IV of WIOA had a profound impact on individuals with disabilities, especially those with significant disabilities and students and youth with disabilities transitioning from education to employment. These provisions strengthen opportunities for individuals with disabilities to acquire the skills and supports necessary to maximize their potential and enter competitive integrated employment. The final implementing regulations for the VR program adhere to three key goals:

  1. Align the VR program with the workforce development system;
  2. Strengthen VR’s focus on competitive integrated employment; and
  3. Expand VR services to students and youth with disabilities.

While these are many new opportunities and innovations under WIOA, I would like to share just a few that I believe will have a positive impact on employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities:

Strengthened emphasis on competitive integrated employment (CIE):

  1. The definition of “competitive integrated employment” in the implementing regulations has three major components related to competitive earnings, integrated locations, and opportunities for advancement.

Emphasis on transition services, including pre-employment transition services:

  1. WIOA expands the population of students with disabilities who may receive services and the kinds of services that the VR agencies may provide to youth and students with disabilities who are transitioning from school to postsecondary education and employment.
  2. WIOA emphasizes the provision of services to students and youth with disabilities to ensure they have opportunities to receive the training and other services necessary to achieve competitive integrated employment.
  3. WIOA increases opportunities to practice and improve workplace skills, such as through internships and other work-based learning opportunities.

Emphasis on employer engagement:

  1. RSA has begun the process of working with employers through a series of Round Table discussions that were held in FY 2016. These focused on the following sectors:
    • Federal contracting,
    • healthcare,
    • banking, and
    • information technology sectors.
  2. RSA will continue to work with state agencies to increase employer engagement.
  3. RSA encourages State VR agencies to meet employer needs by focusing on working with human resource firms and organizations that focus on diversity and talent acquisition.

Collaborative opportunities to work with partners across the workforce development system:

  1. WIOA promotes program alignment at the Federal, State, local, and regional levels; establishes common performance measures across core programs; encourages common data systems across core programs; builds on proven practices such as sector strategies, career pathways, regional economic approaches, work-based training; strengthens alignment between adult education, postsecondary education, and employers; strengthens transition services and supports for students and youth with disabilities; and emphasizes the achievement of competitive integrated employment by individuals with disabilities.
  2. Federal Partners—RSA is working with various partners at the Federal level, including the other WIOA core partners (Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services), and other Federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  3. State agencies are collaborating and partnering with a variety of organizations to bring about improvements, including state and local workforce development partners, disability specific training and education programs (e.g. Gallaudet University, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and the Florida State University’s Visual Disabilities Program, research and training programs (e.g. the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University, innovative work based learning programs (e.g. Café Reconcile, Student Transition to Employment Project), and many other partners.

RSA’s new focus on technical assistance and demonstration projects:

  1. To provide leadership and resources to grantees and stakeholders, RSA created a series of training and technical assistance centers (TACs) and demonstration projects to assist state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and their partners in providing VR and other services to individuals with disabilities.
  2. Focus on Career Pathways—In FY 2015, RSA awarded a grant to focus on Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities (CPID) model demonstration program in Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Virginia. The purpose of the program is to demonstrate replicable promising practices in the use of career pathways to enable VR-eligible individuals with disabilities, including youth with disabilities, to acquire marketable skills and recognized postsecondary credentials and to secure competitive integrated employment in high-demand, high-quality occupations. Program activities are being designed and implemented in partnership with secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, American Job Centers, workforce training providers, social and human service organizations, employers, and other Federal career pathways initiatives.
  3. Identifying new models and looking forward—Automated Personalization Computing Project (APCP)—The purpose of the APCP is to improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities by increasing access to information and communication technologies (ICT) through automatic personalization of needed assistive technology (AT). Under the APCP, an information technology (IT) infrastructure would be created to allow users of ICT to store preferences in the cloud or other technology, which then would allow supported Internet–capable devices they are using to automatically run their preferred AT solutions. This IT infrastructure will ultimately provide better educational opportunities, ease transitions between school and the workforce, and improve productivity in the workplace.

I am confident that these innovations and opportunities will result in improved employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. I look forward to seeing what other innovations are yet to come, and invite you to look ahead with me.

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