The cornerstone of the Department of Labor’s workforce development system is a network of American Job Centers, which are designed to provide a full range of assistance to job seekers under one roof. With nearly 2,500 AJCs located throughout the country, they are the go-to destinations for people in search of career counseling, job connections and similar employment-related services.
The AJCs are a major source of DOL pride, the bustling facilities are staffed by dedicated professionals who are helping Americans find jobs, access training programs and gain marketable skills in growing industries. But it's not only the services that are impressive; it's also how AJCs are offering their services to their diverse range of customers, which often includes people with disabilities. AJCs are on a mission to ensure universal access to their centers, which is an especially fitting reminder given the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
American Job Centers are essential to delivering on the promise of the ADA because they're the ones on the front lines assisting people who are seeking employment. And so many of the AJCs are working to offer their services more universally whether it means providing customers accommodations they might need; training workforce staff on disability-related issues; or ensuring universal access to the technology used within their AJCs, as well as their physical facilities themselves.
However, there is always room for improvement, and the Department of Labor wants to do everything it can to assist our AJCs in better assisting their customers with disabilities. That’s the premise behind our new guide titled “Promising Practices in Achieving Universal Access and Equal Opportunity: A Section 188 Disability Reference Guide.”
The Department of Labor’s Section 188 nondiscrimination regulations ensure all individuals have equal access to programs and activities run by or with financial assistance from DOL and, in certain circumstances, other federal agencies. This of course includes AJCs, which must be made open and accessible to all members of the public.
The new reference guide will help AJCs do just that. Developed collaboratively by the Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center, Employment and Training Administration, Office of Disability Employment Policy, and Solicitor’s Office, it describes effective strategies for improving access to programs and services provided for both youth and adults with disabilities. The guide replaces what used to be called the Section 188 Checklist first issued in 2003, and is a great improvement, providing actual examples of promising practices in place at AJCs across the nation. So the guide aims to capture those and encourage replication.
That said, it’s important to note that the practices highlighted in the guide are not mandatory, because what works in one AJC or one community might not be appropriate or relevant in another. After all, our nation’s workforce system is, by design, local in nature. We know AJCs need to be nimble and able to respond to the differing needs of their different communities, so the guide highlights a variety of practices in a variety of settings. It is meant to share effective models and perhaps spark creativity in devising additional ones.
What is mandatory is that we work to ensure that all Americans have equal access to workforce services. That is the intent of Section 188, and DOL is committed to delivering on it as we help pave the road to a more accessible future.
Tania Mejia is a special assistant in the Office of Public Affairs.