FYI: Federally Funded Programs for Persons with Disabilities

Published October 20, 2021

The number of disabled Americans who hold a job is woefully low. According to a recent report by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 only 17.9% of disabled people were employed. Comparatively, 61.8% of non-disabled Americans included in the data are considered gainfully employed.

That disparity has much to do with the older demographic that the disability community inherently encompasses, according to the report.

With so much work to be done, what is the federal government doing to improve employment for persons with disabilities? We review federally funded initiatives intended to improve access to employment for persons with disabilities. 

How the federal government supports employment initiatives

In attempting to support employment efforts for people with disabilities, the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) funds five programs: Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT), the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), Employers Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN), the National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People with Disabilities (LEAD Center), and The Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth.

Each program shares the same overall goals but works to achieve similar but differing tactical objectives. 

Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT)

Once you get past the acronyms, each has a slightly different purpose and mission. PEAT, for example, focuses on what they call, “the employment, retention, and career advancement of people with disabilities through the development, adoption, and promotion of accessible technology policy.” In 2020, PEAT collaborated with Teach Access on their Study Away program in Silicon Valley. The collaborative partnerships allow participants with disabilities to build the skills needed to increase access in the workplace. Much of what PEAT focuses on publicly is what they call the “Accessible Technology Skills Gap," believing that many businesses and organizations want to create access, but don’t have the resources needed to accomplish their objectives.

Job Accommodation Network

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is largely focused on advising best practices in workplace compliance and accommodations in regards to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). JAN works closely with organizations to identify compliance issues and employees with disabilities looking for support and clarity surrounding their rights and how to meet their specific access needs. JAN’s most recent report, “Accommodation and Compliance: Low Cost, High Impact,” highlights that of the more than 3,000 respondents to their survey, 90% reported, “retaining a valuable employee” as a result of JAN’s work.

Employers Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN)

EARN’s mission is to help “employers recruit, hire, retain and advance people with disabilities by responding to their need for effective and innovative strategies to optimize their workforce.” Recently, there has been a heavy focus on providing COVID-19 specific resources for employers who have disabled employees, including a guide to creating a COVID safety plan that is inclusive, and personal narratives about employers’ COVID response(s), Other resources produced by EARN highlight how remote work can increase opportunities for disabled employees, an explainer on issues of disabled employment as they relate to the ADA’s most recent anniversary, and collaboration with PEAT in the form of a checklist for recruiters looking to find disabled candidates.

Lead Center

The LEAD Center focuses on employment programming and policy, such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act. They recently publicized a toolkit created in collaboration with the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and Employee Benefits Security Administration called, “Secure Your Financial Future: A Toolkit for Individuals with Disabilities.” The guide is aimed at employees with disabilities who are facing the harsh impacts of COVID in their professional lives. Sections of the toolkit are based on what one could call the lifecycle of a job process: preparing for a job, starting a job, maintaining a job, changing or losing a job, and retiring from a job.

The Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth

Lastly, CAPE-Youth is another collaboration between federal agencies, foundations, and academic institutions ranging from the ODEP and Council of State Governments to those at Cornell and UMass. Their policy work focuses on what they call “Guideposts for Success”. These policy directives work to create a framework for disabled youth to transition well into adulthood.

Learn more

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