Oregon Seeks to Enhance Employment Outcomes for People with Disabilities Through Private-Sector Engagement

By Rachel Wright, Policy Analyst

Over the past 10 years, the employment rate of Oregonians with disabilities has steadily risen and remains among the highest in the nation. Research by the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows that between 2012 and 2020, the employment rate of people with disabilities in Oregon rose 2.3 percentage points. This means that more than 18,000 additional Oregonians who have a disability found and maintained employment during that period. 

Oregon’s sustained engagement with private sector businesses has contributed to the improved employment outcomes among people with disabilities. In recent years, Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) – an office within the Oregon Department of Human Services – has spearheaded numerous initiatives to build the capacity of private sector employers to engage in disability inclusion efforts. These initiatives include: 

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Employment Transition Services for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities: The Ohio College2Careers Program 

By Katherine Emerson, Roosevelt Fellow

Youth and young adults with disabilities are employed at lower rates than their peers without disabilities. College is one pathway that can help students with disabilities prepare for employment. Individuals with disabilities who complete some college or earn an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree are employed at higher rates than individuals who do not.  

However, fewer than 35% of students with disabilities graduate from four-year institutions within eight years. College students with disabilities could therefore benefit from additional supports and services to succeed in college and prepare for their careers. Ohio’s College2Careers program is a state initiative focused on providing supports to help students with disabilities succeed in college and beyond. 

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Colorado Enhances Equity, Diversity and Inclusion within State Government, Including for Individuals with Disabilities

By Elise Gurney, Project Manager 

States are increasingly engaging in State as Model Employer (SAME) initiatives to increase employment rates for people with disabilities. These efforts are designed to increase the recruitment, hiring, advancement, retention and inclusion of people with disabilities in the state government workforce. SAME initiatives also position the state as an example for private sector employers to model. 

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Oregon Combines General Funds and ARPA Funds to Support People with Disabilities: The Future Ready Oregon Initiative 

By Rachel Wright, Policy Analyst

The social and economic disruptions caused by the pandemic have highlighted significant disparities in how the workforce system serves marginalized groups such as people with disabilities, communities of color and people with low incomes. People with disabilities have remained engaged in the labor market throughout the pandemic and their labor force participation rate has not dropped appreciably. However, studies show that people with disabilities have experienced high percentages of employment changes and disruption (e.g., decreased pay, reduced work hours). 

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Recent Report Highlights State Efforts to Become a Model Employer of People with Disabilities 

By Rachel Wright, Policy Analyst 

State governments have increasingly recognized the advantages of proactively recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. As such, many states have pursued “state as a model employer” policies and practices to increase the number of people with disabilities employed in the public sector. 

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U.S. Department of Labor Announces Rule to Increase Minimum Wage for Federal Contract Employees

By Abeer Sikder, Policy Analyst

On November 24, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor published a final rule that increases the hourly minimum wage to $15 for federal contract employees beginning January 30, 2022, up from the current rate of $10.95 per hour. The rule also eliminates the exemption for federal contractors with disabilities to be paid less than the minimum wage.

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Federal and State Subminimum Wage Legal and Policy Framework

State Exchange on Employment & Disability

Federal Legal and Policy Framework

Under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are authorized, after receiving a certificate from the Wage and Hour Division, to pay subminimum wages (SMWs)—wages less than the federal minimum wage—to workers who have disabilities “for the job  being performed.” The certificate also allows the payment of wages that are less than the prevailing wage to workers who have disabilities for the work being performed on contracts subject to the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA) and the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act (PCA).

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New CSG Report and Upcoming Webinar: The State as a Model Employer of People with Disabilities

The Council of State Governments will host a webinar entitled “Inclusion Works: Strategies for Establishing States as Model Employers of People with Disabilities” on October 27, 2022 from 3:00 – 4:30 pm ET. This webinar will highlight innovative state policies and practices aimed at increasing the employment of people with disabilities in the public sector. These policies include

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States Address Mental Health Stigma and Employability 

By Sean Slone, Senior Policy Analyst

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on mental health. According to a 2021 survey by the American Psychological Association, psychologists reported significant increases in demand for treatment of anxiety, depression and trauma since 2020. For every person who seeks help however, there may be many more who do not due to concerns about stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental health conditions.  

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States Address Mental Health of Public Health Workforce and First Responders 

By Sean Slone, Senior Policy Analyst

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on the mental health of many people living in the U.S., but perhaps none more so than those who have been on the frontlines of protecting the public’s health—first responders, law enforcement officers and the nation’s health care workforce.  

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Engaging the Private Sector: States Employ Tax Incentives to Support Hiring of People with Disabilities 

By Anna Lucchese, Policy Fellow and Dalton Goble, Policy Fellow

In this rapidly changing world of workforce development, businesses are seeking to diversify their staff through a variety of ways. Hiring people with disabilities is a beneficial option for organizations to achieve this goal while addressing labor needs and obtaining competitive advantages. Studies have indicated that hiring individuals with disabilities improves profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction and inclusive work culture. To encourage these positive outcomes, state governments have worked closely to construct policies that engage the private sector and provide meaningful job opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

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Order of Selection: How Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies Prioritize Service to Individuals with Disabilities 

By Anna Lucchese, Policy Fellow

State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies assist individuals with disabilities to prepare for, secure, retain, advance in, or regain employment that is consistent with the individual’s unique strengths, abilities, interests, and informed choice. Due to limited funding, State VR agencies do not always have the capacity to serve everyone eligible for VR services. Order of Selection (OOS) was therefore included in Title I of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to prioritize individuals already receiving assistance from these agencies. OOS requires that during times when resources are scarce, VR agencies must create “the order to be followed in selecting eligible individuals to be provided vocational rehabilitation services.” As of April 2022, there are 41 VR agencies that use the OOS system and 37 VR agencies that do not.

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