Employment First: Success and Inclusiveness

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.

Kathy Martinez at Employment First event

Assistant Secretary Martinez speaks at an Employment First State Leadership Mentoring Program event on April 27, 2012.

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.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Terrence Kommal@ Road Accident Fund says:

    Thank you for a great post! I strongly believe that as long as people first is the approach, then the focus is correct!

    I am certain that with the initiatives and leadership development programs in place, there bound to be a marked improvement in the capacity of those involved as well as those served.

  2. CSBS College says:

    Hi Kathy,

    Nice post, thanks for sharing. The problem of integrating people with disabilities in labor is a social responsibility that all must contribute, as you mentioned, too. Most of the times, these people gives us impressive life lessons and compassion towards them is perhaps one of the evil that we can do them. Instead of compassion they want to be treated equally and have equal opportunities. In well developed countries, this problem is closely monitored, but unfortunately there are countries where many of these people with disabilities don’t have the chance to be integrated and treated appropriately. I think government policies to support companies that employ people with disabilities is a key factor in increasing the number of disabled people who find a job and also our attitude towards these people.


  3. Darrel Keesee says:

    Ms. Secretary:

    The sentiments are noble and well placed. However, the statistics show that only about 7% of disabled persons are employed. With the recent expansion of the more ambiguous disabilities definitions, it makes it more difficult for persons to be hired for fear of potential litigation. As an American, I gladly served my country, got out less than 100%, was retrained by the VA, and have found no opportunity that has proved gainful. Instead, I have found senior educated persons are shunned and companies are allowed to engage persons that are half your age, less than a third your education that you were glad to receive, and then told by a DOL sister agency you have not been discriminated against by a federal contractor.

    A disabled person has to meet the same standards and overcome their disability in a manner that does not require accommodation. I respectfully disagree that people are put first when many are experiencing “being thrown under the bus.”

    Thank you for taking the time to embrace this important subject.


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