Last week, I commended the most recent efforts of our federal partners to enforce and protect the rights of workers and job seekers with disabilities, which represent marked progress in the disability employment movement.
My agency, the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, stands ready to help states, businesses and providers improve access to integrated employment and other community-based supports as the preferred option for youth and adults with significant disabilities.
That is the impetus of Employment First, a movement rooted in the belief that public financing should support integrated employment as a priority. Because ODEP understands the value of integrated employment, we are promoting it nationwide as a first option for any individual who chooses it. And we recognize that turning this priority into a reality requires strong alignment of policies, practices and funding across various state agencies.
To support states in achieving major systems change, we launched the Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program in late 2011. The program aims to improve the employment outcomes and socioeconomic advancement of youth and adults with significant disabilities. It also will help us gather knowledge from real-world experiences that will inform federal public policy moving forward.
Most importantly, we are responding to the needs expressed by states and their partners. Providers of disability services are requesting support and access to technical assistance when it comes to supporting individuals with disabilities who wish to pursue integrated employment. State officials and their partners need access to peers in other parts of the country as well as national subject matter experts who know how best to reshape policies, align funding streams and modernize practices so that integrated employment is the preferred option.
From my vantage point, the results thus far have been nothing short of inspiring. All partners — including state and local governments, individuals with disabilities and their families, and the disability service delivery system — play a critical role in these transformational efforts and should be acknowledged for their contributions.
I am not naïve about the overwhelming complexities that systems transformation of this size entails. But I am confident that the right ingredients of committed leadership, strong financial restructuring, consistently coordinated efforts across agencies and a modernized provider community can lead to a better future for the majority of individuals with significant disabilities.
Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy.