Disabled Workers Get National Recognition, Increased Federal Aid

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Themed “Because We Are EQUAL to the Task” by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the object of the campaign is to acknowledge the abilities—the experience and expertise—that workers with challenging mental and/or physical conditions can contribute to our workforce.

In a September 30, 2013, White House Press Release, President Obama’s Proclamation read, “Our Nation has always drawn its strength from the differences of our people, from a vast range of thought, experience, and ability.  Every day, Americans with disabilities enrich our communities and businesses.  They are leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators, each with unique talents to contribute and points of view to express.  During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we nurture our culture of diversity and renew our commitment to building an American workforce that offers inclusion and opportunity for all.”

DOL has been active ahead of this month’s awareness push. Recently, two finalized rule changes regarding the affirmative action hiring practices of veterans—Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA)—and disabled workers—Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—by Federal contractors and subcontractors (which KRA Corporation recently highlighted in a post) were published in the Federal Register for implementation in March of 2014.

ODEP also announced that there will be an award of almost $10 million of extra funds aimed at improving the opportunity for employing people with disabilities. This additional funding will be given to “organizations managing consortia that develop models, provide technical assistance and share best practices to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.”

Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has dubbed his office as the Department of Opportunity said, “These grants will help better connect people with disabilities with employers who can greatly benefit from their skills and experience.”

In another block of grant money aimed at providing education, training and employment opportunities for disabled youth and adults, eight states are set to receive nearly $18 million as part of part of the Disability Employment Initiative.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, one of three new grantees, will receive the highest award ($3 million) to “build upon American Job Center network’s capacity to serve Social Security beneficiaries with disabilities.”

And, as a story of interest, the Smithsonian Institute will be running an exhibit from October through January including photography, paintings, and sculptures created by young artists from 16 to 25 with disabilities.

KRA Corporation has an extensive track record of working on a number of initiatives committed to providing information on a wide range of topics, including assistive devices, as well as materials, publications, and other resources relevant to the special needs of disabled Americans.  We appreciate the depth of effort it requires to raise awareness, as well as to change perceptions, regarding our neighbors with development and/or physical challenges.

KRA Corporation wishes ODEP all the best, not just this month, but each and every every month to come in the new Fiscal Year, and beyond.  Their efforts on behalf of people with disabilites in the workforce continue to be an important movement toward equality among workers and equitable treatment throughout the workforce development system.