Expanding Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

There is no “one size fits all” approach or solution when it comes to addressing the challenges associated with obtaining meaningful employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Apprenticeships are often overlooked when it comes to transition planning for individuals with IDD. In collaboration with the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED) and Women In Government hosted a virtual discussion during its Summer Summit Series on the role of inclusive apprenticeships in providing career pathways for people with disabilities at a time when education, training and other workforce entry programs are adjusting to a post-COVID environment. Moderated by Virginia State Delegate Kathy Tran, the session included presentations from the Urban Institute and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. A recording of the webinar, titled “Post-Secondary Education to Inclusive and Equitable Workforce Readiness,” is now available to view.

ODEP’s State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED) is a unique state-federal collaboration that supports state and local governments in adopting and implementing inclusive policies and best practices that lead to increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and a stronger, more inclusive American workforce and economy. To learn more about SEED and advocacy specific to addressing workforce issues for people with disabilities visit:

Employment is Essential

As we end Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month it is important to recognize the unique challenges individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have experienced over the last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the last year, many individuals experienced dramatic shifts in their daily lives such as changes in where they live, who they live with, day program activities, social experiences with friends and family, educational opportunities and employment opportunities, just to name a few. Employment of people with disabilities is one of the hardest hit areas for people with IDD and one that deserves significant attention as we begin to recover and emerge from this pandemic. Research shows that at the beginning of 2020 national employment measures were close to an all-time high with many states facing a massive worker shortage. People with disabilities were also finding greater employment opportunities. However, unemployment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities was still notably high with estimates of unemployment ranging from 80% – 86% of employment age adults. Since the pandemic began it is estimated that people with disabilities have experienced an even greater disproportionate impact of job loss and that about 40% of people with disabilities who were employed pre-pandemic have lost their jobs. It is unknow what percent will get their jobs back but nevertheless that is a massive set back considering the very low percentage of people with disabilities that were employed to begin with.

The National Conference of State Legislatures in Collaboration with the State Exchange on Employment and Disability, an initiative under the US Department of Labor’s Officer of Disability Employment Policy, published a series of reports that look at the effects of the pandemic on employment as well as state policy options that increase opportunities for people with disabilities. As local, state, and federal governments shift into economic recovery mode inclusion of people with disabilities in meaningful employment policy and practice is critical.

The NCSL reports can be found here https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/covid-19-and-employment-for-people-with-disabilities.aspx


California Committee on Employment of Disabled People

The California Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (CCEPD) advances employment for people with disabilities by making policy recommendations to the Secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency. The CCEPD met on December 5, 2019 to discuss specific recommendations to improve the existing draft of the California State Plan for Career Technical Education (CTE). The recommendations put forth by the CCEPD strongly encourages the California Workforce Pathways Joint Advisory Committee (CWPJAC), as drafters of the plan, to include additional strategies for increasing inclusion of students with disabilities in CTE programs. This particularly important as the public comment period for the draft state plan is only open from December 2, 2019 through January 3, 2020.

CTE is the practice of teaching specific career skills to students in middle school, high school and post-secondary education and is the pathway to employment for many students. This option should undoubtedly be considered in transition planning for students with disabilities. Currently, California CTE programs cover 15 different industries and 58 career pathways. To learn more about the draft state plan and provide comment visit: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ct/gi/workpathjac.asp

Jaymn’s Journey and Path to Employment

Jaymn first came into contact with The Arc of San Diego at a Resource Fair which was put on by San Diego Unified School District’s TRACE (high school transition) program. Jaymn had recently finished the program and knew he wanted to work independently out in the community, but knew he would need assistance in achieving this goal. The job he desired was a Mess Attendant position at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, which has the largest mess hall on the west coast. This was going to be a challenge for Jaymn, since he had not had a job that was longer than a couple of hours, a few times a week. The job that Jaymn desired was full time, with a high demand in productivity. Having limited work experience, Jaymn knew he would require additional support if he was to be successful in this role. The Arc of San Diego was able to provide that to him through the Individual Placement Program.

Through the Individual Placement Program, The Arc of San Diego paired Jaymn with a job coach who assisted Jaymn with applying for the job, taking a tour, doing an interview and completing his medical and background clearances. When Jaymn first started, he struggled with learning the military policies and procedures of the mess hall and the proper steps for each of his job tasks. He also struggled with working at a consistent pace and learning what a sense of urgency meant. He found it difficult to keep up with the high volume dishes while learning how to socialize with his peers. Jaymn often fell behind when a large quantity of dishes would come on the conveyor, causing him to become overwhelmed, frustrated and confused.

With the support of his job coach, Jamyn developed a system to help with the organization of the dishes on the conveyor. This system has helped prevent Jaymn from getting overwhelmed when there is a high volume of dishes to be cleaned. Now, Jaymn is excited, confident and always comes to work with a positive attitude, enthusiasm and a smile. Through the support of The Arc of San Diego’s Employment Services, Jaymn has been able to use his paycheck to purchase things he wants and needs and is able to live a more fulfilling and independent life. In addition to having a job that he enjoys, Jaymn is active in The Arc of San Diego’s Our Place Wellness Enrichment program on Saturdays where he enjoys socializing with his peers and participating in fitness classes such as Zumba.

Angelica’s Journey and Path to Employment

In light of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we would like to share Angelica’s journey with you and celebrate her for being nominated for her accomplishments. As you will see she has worked hard and is very proud of herself. She attends Community Vocational Services Inc. which is a Person-Centered program in Fresno, Ca. Her support team says “We are so proud to showcase our shining star Angelica she has excelled and accomplished many achievements in our program and we will continue to cheer her on as we do all consumers we serve.”

Angelica was born and raised in Fresno County by her adopted parents, along with 3 brothers and 2 sisters. She attended Central High School and graduated from Bullard High School. Angelica says, “I am most proud of myself for graduating from Bullard.”

When Angelica arrived at CVS Inc. she was right out of high school; she was struggling with depression, anxiety, personal boundaries, low self-esteem and repetitive trips to the PAC Unit. Each day was different, the highs and lows affected Angelica’s ability to focus, gain trust, affected her listening skills, attention to detail, developing and maintaining friendships as well as growing to be a capable independent adult.

Despite many obstacles and a long road ahead of her, Angelica made the decision to work hard to gain the skills necessary to grow emotionally, vocationally and physically. With a great support team and plan in place Angelica has excelled in so many areas, she communicates her needs appropriately, is more independent, and she has become confident. She is an intelligent, quick witted and fun person to be around with a great sense of humor.

Vocationally she continues to grow; Angelica has worked on her focus, attention to detail, listening skills and follow through. She has a strong work ethic and enjoys being helpful with peers as they ask or need it. Angelica currently works in janitorial settings, retail stockroom, office and house cleaning and Grocery Outlet where she has learned to stock shelves, scan prices, change prices as directed, stock and rotate frozen foods as well as produce. She has shown her ability as a role model and mentor with her job skills and ethics.

Angelica has recently started the Community Integrated Employment (CIE) program at Community Vocational Services Inc. Her case manager and trainer Justin stated “I have seen Angelica’s growth and development in the CIE program. Angelica has chosen to be a part of CIE, which will allow her to achieve the skills necessary in the career of her choice. Through CIE, we have administered several different assessments to see where Angelica is with her current skills. She is looking forward to building those skills and moving past barriers as needed. Her end goal for the CIE program is to obtain employment in childcare, specifically working with infants. Angelica has expressed that she enjoys learning new things about childcare and is excited for her future in this field. We are excited to see Angelica’s progress in her journey to her career choice and we feel she will be a great role model and mentor for what Community Integrated Employment represents to the I/DD population.”

When Angelica was notified of her nomination from CVS for her accomplishments and growth, she was very excited and proud. When asked about her bio, she wanted to include everything that held her back; she said “no matter what mental health stuff you have, you can still work hard and achieve your goals.

There is no doubt Angelica will continue this path of healing and growing into a well-adjusted, happy independent woman with the job of her dreams. Keep reaching for the stars Angelica, we are very proud of all the accomplishments you have worked hard to achieve and maintain.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a national campaign spearheaded by DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. This year the theme is The Right Talent, Right Now, which emphasizes the essential role people with disabilities play in America’s economic success, especially in an era when historically low unemployment and global competition are creating a high demand for skilled talent.

The reality is that for many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) obtaining competitive integrated employment can be extremely difficult. Research shows that the number of people with disabilities who are not in the labor force increased by 10 percent between 2008 and 2017. The number of people with disabilities actively looking for work declined by 36 percent from 2010 to 2016. Even more concerning is a twenty-year trend that shows the labor market activity rate for persons with disabilities declined by over 50 percent between 1990 and 2014. People with disabilities consistently maintain a labor force participation rate that is 40 percent lower than the general population, while experiencing a 15 percent higher rate of poverty.

The Right Talent, Right Now is an opportunity to highlight the fact that a talented workforce is developed through many different ways and opportunities. Innovation in employment, apprenticeship programs and appropriate employment supports are just a few of the ways a talented workforce can be developed. I am encouraged by recently signed legislation, Assembly Bill 1019 authored by Assembly Member Frazier, that expands the membership of the established Interagency Advisory Committee on Apprenticeship (IACA) to include the Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation and the Executive Director of the California State Council on Development Disabilities. It is a step in the right direction to ensure people with IDD have a voice and input when it comes to developing apprenticeship opportunities throughout the state. The U.S. Department of Labor reports the value of apprenticeships as they help businesses develop highly-skilled employees, which in turn reduces turnover rates, increases productivity and lowest the cost of recruitment.