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Practical Perspective: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

 

Here at the Transition Talk blog, we have been discussing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), a federal law that authorizes and brings together core federal programs under the workforce development system.

 

The purpose behind WIOA is to find more effective ways to help people return to the workforce and people who face barriers to employment. An important goal of this legislation is to increase the number of people with disabilities working in our communities.

Did you know that in 2015, 34.9% of people with disabilities in the US, ages 18-64 and living in the community, were employed compared to 76.0% of people without disabilities? That's a gap of 41.1 percent! How can we change those numbers?

There are many factors contributing to why someone with a disability does not work. These  barriers can include a loss of benefits, transportation challenges, lack of skilled support staff to make employer connections, lack of trained and available staff to provide the personal care to get someone off to work, and the belief that businesses won’t hire people with disabilities. However, each of these barriers has solutions! I will share several resources for how we can support employment outcomes for all people with disabilities.

1.) Loss of benefits. People who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have federal limits to their income to receive these benefits. Those who also receive Medicaid funded (waiver) services for their personal care, residential and vocational services, healthcare, medications, vision, dental, therapies, etc. rely on Medicaid benefits to live, work, and be healthy in their community. Maintaining those benefits can be critically important for some people with disabilities, but even with these benefits they can still get a job! There are many work incentive programs as part of Social Security Administration (SSA) with helpful benefits counselors ready to help navigate the possibilities. To learn more, reference the Red Book for Work Incentives.

2.) Transportation. There are many communities with no public transportation options, and yet there are many others with a robust public transportation system inclusive for people with a disability. Knowing what is available in the community is the start of discovering options! Here are some further considerations to make for transportation:

  • Find a job within the distance that the person can independently walk, bike, or wheel to from home. Take into consideration crossing busy streets or highways, and finding jobs on bus routes or a para-transit system.
  • Look at carpooling options. Where are other people in the neighborhood driving for work or for other activities in the community? Check local resources for carpooling groups.
  • Talk to coworkers at the job about carpool options. This may require adjusting work hours to match someone willing and able to carpool.
  • Hire a driver from the community or a coworker to provide the transportation. This would be done through a vocational agency or fiscal agent to complete needed paperwork. Background checks, driving record, taxes, or hired driver insurance coverage may need to be considered.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation and/or long-term care waiver funding (if eligible) can provide funds to pay an agency to provide transportation to and from work. If funded by Vocational Rehabilitation, it requires the person to plan an alternative funding source once that short-term funding ends, but gives an opportunity for the person to start a job and earn money as they develop a plan.
  • Review social security disability work incentives that allow setting aside disability funds for a vehicle (PASS plan, for example).
  • Use local ride services such as cabs or rideshare (Lyft and Uber) to determine the cost sharing for these services.

3.) Trained and available staff. They are a critical part of supporting the services needed for people with disabilities to live and work in their communities. A focus on professional development, training, and employee retention is needed to support these outcomes. Currently, we have two courses on transition for training professionals: From School to Adulthood: Transition Planning for Youth with Disabilities and Going to Work: Pathway to Employment for Youth with Disabilities. Watch for future opportunities within our new Attainment Academy program.

4.) Belief that businesses are not hiring people with disabilities. Most companies are finding the value in diversifying their workforce. It builds stronger teams and people with disabilities represent a significant portion of people in the community. There is great value in having a workforce that represents the people in a community. Many businesses have targeted hiring programs to invite people with disabilities to apply. Not to mention, as the number of people available to work in our country is decreasing, employers are seeking out employees from a more diverse population. Take advantage of this opportunity to talk to businesses about this untapped labor pool of individuals who want to work and can bring their own unique skills and talents.

Here are several websites demonstrating how businesses are being proactive in recruiting people with a disability:

The process for someone with disabilities to seek employment starts with the belief that working brings value to their lives. Families need to expect that working is a part of adult living. Schools and service providers need to help students and adults with disabilities develop the appropriate skills to be successful in community employment. The business community must believe that people with disabilities bring added value to their workforce and society. And the community as a whole must prioritize employment outcomes for youth and adults with disabilities. This could be through support of job programs, making legislative changes to encourage employment, or changing attitudes to believe that everyone can work.

 

Have you been following my posts about WIOA? Do you have any questions about what we have discussed thus far? I'm happy to answer any and all questions; Just post them below in the comments! 

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