Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
Positive changes have been implemented to help the disabled with employment. Employment First is a program under the U.S. Department of Labor set up to improve the lives of severely disabled youth and adults by full inclusion in employment services and in the community. To promote that concept, the Office of Disability Employment Policy developed their Employment First State Leadership Mentor Program to help the states refine their efforts to help the disabled find gainful employment.
The U.S. Labor Department has awarded $100,000 to each of three states, Tennessee, Iowa and Oregon to aid them with programs designed to move the disabled into mainstream employment. Each of the states is expected to align their agencies into a comprehensive plan to improve employment services.
Washington State will mentor each of the newly awarded states. In 2006, Washington put together its program for employment called Working Age Adult Policy, the first in the nation to implement such a policy for the disabled. The success of their program and their experience in this area make them a perfect choice for leading other states toward accomplishing more effective policy.
Each state intends to study their own policies and coordinate the efforts of various agencies. The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) will lead Tennessee’s effort. They plan to align much of their operations with the One-Stop Career Centers. These centers are located in each state to offer convenient resources for all services concerned with employment including training, counseling and locating available jobs.
Iowa will collaborate its improvement effort with Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services. This is an agency whose mission is to encourage independence of the disabled through employment. It is a shared program with funding from both state and federal resources.
Revising state policies and exploring funding opportunities are among the first goals of the state of Oregon. The Department of Human Services, Office of Developmental Disabilities will take the lead role in helping communities develop the ability to improve employment services and increase the number of disabled people in more conventional jobs.
The Labor Department will continue the Mentor Program by offering additional grants in the future. States must apply for the funds and express an interest in developing a plan to improve employment statistics for the disabled. Furthermore, the states are not only mentored by other states with fully developed and implemented programs, but they are offered assistance from national experts and scheduled for conference calls with the other states which are also working within the Mentor Program.