As the new chair of the National Governors Association, Delaware Governor Jack Markell has a disability employment initiative:
A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities aims to increase employment among individuals with disabilities. Specifically, my initiative will focus on the employment challenges that affect individuals with intellectual and other significant disabilities and the role that both state government and business can play in facilitating and advancing opportunities for these individuals to be gainfully employed in the competitive labor market. Successfully achieving that goal will require not only attention to appropriate training, job placement, and work-based support but also advancing best practices and meaningful engagement of the business community. Because government, business, the general public, individuals with disabilities, andAt The Daily Beast, Eleanor Clift writes:
their families all stand to benefit from increased employment of people with disabilities, all have a role and shared responsibility in reaching this goal.
Markell tells of recently touring a Walgreens distribution center in Hartford, where half the 500 employees are people with disabilities of varying kinds. He learned that deaf people make the best forklift drivers, and he also realized that hiring the disabled is an issue that cuts across partisan lines. Together with him on the tour that day was Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, who chairs the National Republican Campaign Committee, and whose politics are the polar opposite of those of Markell, a Democrat and passionate surrogate for the Obama campaign.
Markell thought of Sessions as a hardliner—“a guy I would not want to have against me”—and was surprised to hear him speak so movingly about the issue of disabilities, and about his son, Alex, who has Down syndrome. Markell recalled the Texas congressman saying he has one son in the upper 2 percent of academic ability, and another in the lowest 2 percent, a disparity that motivated him to become the leading Republican advocate in Congress for people with physical and mental disabilities.
The Texas lawmaker is not looking for another government-driven program; he thinks there are already too many at the state and federal level. What he likes about Markell’s initiative is that it’s a public-private partnership, and it’s voluntary. Government is not forcing business to do anything. “Business is out here trying to do things; government gets in the way,” Sessions says. Today’s anti-big-government GOP doesn’t celebrate what former Republican president George H.W. Bush still considers one of his proudest achievements, signing the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
Kathleen Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, and Sharon Lewis, commissioner of the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, today signed a memorandum of agreement. Together, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy and AIDD, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Community Living, will work to expand and promote integrated employment as the first employment option for individuals with significant, including intellectual and other developmental, disabilities.
The partnership between the two federal agencies will further their coordination of resources and efforts so that the concept of “Employment First” – described at http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/EmploymentFirst.htm – is more broadly embraced. Many states already have resolved to implement policies that promote integrated employment as the first option of service for individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities through the establishment of Employment First initiatives. Both ODEP and AIDD support these initiatives and other efforts to change states’ employment systems by providing technical assistance, training and capacity building support..
AIDD ensures that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families participate in the design of and have access to culturally competent needed community services, individualized supports and other forms of assistance that promote self-determination, independence, productivity, and integration and inclusion in all facets of community life.
ODEP’s mission is to provide national leadership by developing and influencing disability employment-related policies and practices to increase the employment of people with disabilities