Celebrating Abilities!

As a young child, I was probably about 8 or 9 years old, my grandfather took me to his company picnic on Long Island, NY. My young mind was fascinated that my able-bodied (a term I didn’t know at the time) grandfather worked in a place where there were people with missing limbs and other disabilities (another term I didn’t know). My grandfather worked at the Viscardi Center (www.viscardicenter.org) which prepares adolescents and adults with all types of disabilities and levels of experience for entry or re-entry into the workforce. It was founded over sixty years ago by Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. who himself wore prosthetic legs. He became one of the world’s leading advocates for people with disabilities and an advisor to U.S. eight presidents, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter. Years later, in my corporate life, I would once again cross paths with the Viscardi Center.

On July 26, 1990 President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act. This law was modeled after Section 503 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibited government contractors from discriminating against individuals with disabilities and required them to engage in affirmative action to employ and advance in employment this group of individuals.

Under these laws, an individual with a disability has i) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (ii) A record of such an impairment; or (iii) Being regarded as having such an impairment. For employment purposes, the individual must be able to perform the job’s essential functions with or without a reasonable accommodation in order to enjoy the protections of the law.

On March 24, 2014, new regulations became effective under Section 503. Government contractors must now establish a utilization or representation goal for individuals with disabilities in their workforces. To meet this utilization goal, the US Department of Labor suggests working with
· State Vocational Rehabilitation Service Agencies
· Employer Assistance and Resource Network funded by DOL
· Employment One-Stop Career Centers
· Local Employer Network Organizations in SSA’s Ticket to Work Employment Network Directory www.yourtickettowork.com/endir
· Placement Offices of educational institutions specializing in placements of individuals with disabilities.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Cindy Roberts from the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. I learned that DARS Business Services provides business with
· Prescreened Qualified Candidates - (Matching candidate skills and background with job requirements)
· Pre-employment testing and Background checks on DARS referrals
· Financial Incentives
· Job Retention/Return to Work Services
· Accessibility Analysis and Solutions

Some of the ways they support business and clients is by helping with recruiting and staffing by setting up job internships or on-the-job training to make sure the employee is a good fit, arranging job fairs, and partnering with job coaches to guide the clients (employees) you hire who need extra support services. Additionally, they can help identify accommodations and assistive technology that are simple and inexpensive. They can also help by providing financial incentives for businesses through on-the-job training reimbursements and assisting with Work Opportunity Tax Credits. Virginia employers can learn more about DARS and the services they offer employers by visiting their website at www.vdars.org.

Each state has a vocational rehabilitation agency which is federally funded to assist people with disabilities to prepare for, obtain, or regain employment. If your organization hasn’t already done so, conduct a search for the one in your state and contact them. You’ll be amazed at the resources they can offer you.

The US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) sponsors four research and technical assistance resources, including
· Job Accommodation Network (JAN) the leading source of free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.

· LEAD Center, a collaborative of disability, workforce and economic empowerment organizations led by National Disability Institute dedicated to advancing sustainable individual and systems-level change to improve competitive, integrated employment and economic self-sufficiency for adults across the spectrum of disabilities.

· Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) which helps employers hire and retain workers with disabilities.

· National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth (NCWD/Youth), a partnership to promote success for youth with disabilities entering the workforce.

To learn more about these resources and ODEP visit the website at www.dol.gov/odep.

There are so many success stories regarding employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. For example, between 3,000 and 4,000 DARS clients become successfully employed each year. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Learn more about what your organization can do to celebrate successes and the abilities that every potential job candidate can bring to your organization.

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