States are increasingly leading a transition away from sheltered workshops – where businesses employ people with disabilities at less than minimum wage and in settings that primarily or exclusively employ individuals with disabilities – and toward competitive integrated employment (CIE). While thirteen states have passed legislation to eliminate subminimum wages, Indiana is taking a unique approach by leveraging American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to transition employers away from sheltered workshops and advance CIE. The goal is to increase CIE for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the state from 23% to 38% by 2027. This equates to a 68% increase in the number of individuals with IDD in the state employed in CIE by 2027.
The State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED), a U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) initiative, launched a series of four online dialogues to explore and advance workforce mental health policies. Through April 3, you are invited to join these conversations by submitting ideas, as well as commenting and voting on ideas submitted by others, on four priority topic areas:
State as a Model Employer (SAME) initiatives refer to policies and practices states engage in to increase the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of people with disabilities within state government. SAME efforts allow states to advance their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and serve as examples for private sector employers to follow. While 20 states and Washington D.C. have adopted SAME policies statewide, other states have focused on efforts within specific state agencies. One such state is Arkansas.
Nearly 50 million Americans live in rural areas, where the percentage of people reporting disabilities is highest (17.8%, compared to 12.1% for metropolitan counties). Yet despite the high rate of disability in rural areas, people with disabilities can face significant barriers accessing services and supports, including employment supports. Challenges include long waitlists for Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services, limited employment options, and lack of transportation and/or broadband to access training and employment opportunities.
Arkansas is one state that has sought to address the challenges faced by people with disabilities living in rural areas and better connect them to employment services, supports, and opportunities. Strategies include expanding broadband access in rural areas, delivering VR services remotely, and leveraging statewide and community partners to better reach individuals with disabilities living in rural areas.
State governments are facing unprecedented workforce shortages. Since 2010 there has been a steady increase in the rate of people leaving state and local government, which accelerated to a high of 11.7% amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 2022 there were 695,000 fewer people employed in state and local government jobs than before the pandemic. One strategy states have used to meet their workforce needs is skills-based hiring, where states screen candidates based on their skills, capabilities, and talents, rather than their educational background. This practice allows states to access a larger, more diverse pool of candidates, including individuals with disabilities.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.