Resources available to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are expanding since the enactment of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which took effect July 1, 2015.
“The mission and the whole focus of the WIOA is employment for all,” Janice John, deputy administrator at the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation(DETR), said in a phone interview with NNBW. “It’s really very clear that opportunities should be there for people.”
Under the new law, persons with disabilities age 24 and younger must receive pre-employment transition services at their school to either a post secondary education or integrated employment before they’re allowed to work for less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
“What WIOA kind of mandates is that you have to have a formal transition process,” Mark Malady, programs director at High Sierra Industries (HSI-WARC), explained in an interview with NNBW.
HSI-WARC is a non-profit organization in northern Nevada that provides work for people with I/DD who can’t get a job.
“We really aim to support and facilitate autonomy,” Malady said. “We’re offering a variety of supports that help people do that whether it be facility-based opportunities or employment inside of our organization — minimum wage and above — or assistance in transferring to community-based employment that doesn’t have anything to do with us anymore.”
HSI-WARC has a program called the Career Development Academy that matches hopeful employees with employers. So far, Malady said it has placed about 67 people with I/DD into a competitive, integrated employment setting since 2013. He added that some of those people were able to reduce or terminate their social security income.
“I think that having a more customized approach to finding employment is going to be the key,” John said.
WIOA puts an emphasis on competitive, integrated employment. This helps people with I/DD find work in jobs earning minimum wage or higher alongside employees that don’t have I/DD.
“With customized employment, you find out the various specific skill or interest or passion that the person has and then you go into the business and you carve something out that would benefit the business,” Scott Harrington, former director of theCustomized Employment Project, explained in an interview with NNBW. “So the business is not hiring the person because they have a disability or because they feel sad … it’s because that person makes a contribution to the business.”
Like the Career Development Academy, the Customized Employment Project, started by the Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities (NCED), helps match prospective employees with I/DD with employers.
The Customized Employment Project is now run by the Northern Nevada Center for Independent Living. The project has helped people with disabilities find work at places like Starbucks, Rounds Bakery and Sheplers to name a few.
“Wherever you go, a good business is looking for some way to improve,” Harrington explained.
Groups such as NCED are looking at post secondary education as a means to incentivize employers to hire people with disabilities. They’ve developed a program called Path to Independence, which gives people with I/DD who have not obtained a standard high school diploma an opportunity to get a post secondary education.
“Our goal for every person is meaningful employment,” Mary Bryant, program director for Path to Independence, said in a phone interview with NNBW.
She mentioned a January 2015 study that compared students with disabilities who had attended a post secondary education with students with disabilities who did not. It found that 100 percent of those who obtained a higher education had been employed in the last two years while 53 percent of students who did not were employed.
Currently, there are nine students enrolled in the program. Typically, the program lasts a minimum of two years with a third year option.
The program, which started in fall 2013, has three graduates. Five more will be graduating this month. Bryant hopes to add eight students for the following term.
The efforts of community leaders, non-profit organizations and state agencies are providing hope for those with I/DD struggling to find work opportunities. “We believe that a person with a disability can really achieve — not just meet minimum standards – they can compete equally with anybody else,” Malady said. “And sometimes, depending on the situation, they can actually work better than a person without a disability and that’s a big thing. They just need to align their skills and their passion.”