Southwest Educational Development Laboratory

The Federal Initiative to Increase Employment of People with Disabilities

The Federal government has launched a multifaceted initiative to deal with the discrepancies in employment levels among workforce participants overall, those with disabilities, and all working age people with disabilities. A combination of new legislation and programs will address issues in the employment of adults with disabilities.

This initiative takes place in an environment where American business is experiencing an economic surge, jobs in a variety of fields are available, and the employment abilities of people with disabilities have been well-documented over the past three decades (e.g. Williams, Brown & Certo, 1975; Gold, 1980; Wehman & Hill, 1980; Wehman, Kregel & Seyfarth, 1985; Wehman, Hill, Wood & Parent, 1987; Wehman & West, 1996). These factors provide opportunities to revise and renew employment efforts, take new directions, and form positive partnerships in addressing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

One component of the Federal employment initiative is the funding of six new employment-focused Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers (RRTCs) by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). The new employment-focused RRTCs will address NIDRR research priorities in Disability and Employment Policy, State Service Systems, Community Rehabilitation Programs, Workplace Supports, and Postsecondary Educational Supports.

The new employment-focused RRTCs will work cooperatively with new and existing Federally-sponsored efforts to positively impact the employment of people with disabilities. These include:

  1. The Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities, initiated in March of 1998 (Clinton, 1998).
  2. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 including The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998.
  3. Social Security Administration Demonstration Projects
  4. Department of Labor Welfare-to-Work Grants

The purpose of the program is to put people to work. Not get ready to work; not talk about work, going to work, or think about work; not services, but work.

State Vocational Rehabilitation Administrator
(Whitney-Thomas & Thomas, 1996)

1. Presidential Taskforce on Employment of Adults with Disabilities

In March of 1998, the President announced the Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities "in order to increase the employment of adults with disabilities to a rate that is as close as possible to the employment rate of the general adult population" ( President Clinton, 1998). The Task Force is Chaired by Alexis Herman, Secretary of Labor. Tony Coelho, Chair of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, serves as Vice Chair. Members include: Secretaries from the Departments of Treasury, Commerce, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Education, and Veteran’s Affairs; Administrators of the Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, and the Office of Personnel Management; and Chairs of the National Council on Disability and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (President Clinton, 1998).

The Task Force will focus on ten tasks that directly coincide with the priorities of the new employment-focused RRTCs. In discussing this connection, Becky Ogle, Executive Director of the Presidential Task Force, described the RRTCs as "extremely timely research programs that will provide the Presidential Task Force with scientific information supporting current and future federal policies in the employment of adults with disabilities" (B. Ogle, personal communication, October 28, 1998).

For more information contact:

Presidential Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Suite S-2312
Washington, D.C. 20210
Telephone numbers:
(202) 219-6081 X 154
TTY (202) 219-0012
E-mail address: [link no longer active]

2. Workforce Investment Act of 1998

In September, 1998, the President signed the Workforce Investment Act. This legislation consolidates a large number of Federally-funded programs into three State block grants including Adult Employment and Training, Disadvantaged Youth Employment and Training, and Adult Education and Family Literacy. Under these block grants "one-stop shops" or Workforce Development Centers will be established to provide job seekers with a wide range of services previously provided by separate agencies. A major portion of the Workforce Investment Act includes the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 which: (a) continue vocational rehabilitation as a separate State agency; (b) provide for the development of an Individual Plan of Employment (IPE) to replace the IWRP for each eligible person with a disability; (c) presume eligibility for all persons who receive SSI or SSDI; and (d) require that all eligible individuals receive information and referral services to the one-stop State Workforce Development System to help them prepare for, secure, retain, or regain a job.

The new employment-focused RRTCs will conduct research on the impact of this legislation on State vocational rehabilitation services and on community rehabilitation programs (CRPs). They also will be developing research-based training materials for Rehabilitation Continuing Education Programs (RCEPs) and disseminating research information to the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR).

For additional information contact:

Rehabilitation Services Administration
600 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, D.C. 20202
(202) 205-5482/TDD 5538
For a text or PDF copy of the Workforce Investment Act:

3. Social Security Funds 12 Demonstration Projects

The Social Security Administration has awarded a total of $5.8 million to 12 states to develop innovative projects for assisting people with disabilities in their efforts to reenter the work force. The competitive grants are the first of a five-year $25 million program designed to provide coordinated approaches to increase work opportunities for people with disabilities. The grant projects target SSI and SSDI recipients with emphasis on persons with psychiatric disabilities and other populations that experience barriers to employment. States receiving grants are California, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

For additional information, contact:

Social Security Administration
Altmeyer Bldg.
6401 Security Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21235

President’s Committee for the Employment of People with Disabilities, 1998 [link no longer active]

4. Department of Labor Announces New Welfare-to-Work Grants

On January 26, 1999 the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Employment and Training Administration (ETA) announced Round Three in a series of grant competitions to provide employment assistance for hard-to-employ recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and certain noncustodial parents, to move into lasting unsubsidized jobs. Approximately $240 million will be available through these grants to fund projects that will typically range from $1 million to $5 million during a maximum 36 month period. The grants will be provided to employment services for people with disabilities, victims of domestic violence, persons with limited English proficiency, noncustodial parents, and persons with substance abuse problems. Grantees are to work with Private Industry Councils (PICs) or political subdivisions of State government to provide a set of employment placement, training, and support activities to achieve unsubsidized employment. The closing date for applications is April 30, 1999 (Federal Register, 1999).

Several of the new employment-focused RRTCs are researching the impact of DOL programs on employment of people with disabilities, particularly the Welfare-to-Work Initiative (WtW), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and DOL programs at one-stop centers. Funding under WtW Round Three will potentially expand the RRTCs’ studies to programs that provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities funded by this competition.

For additional information, contact:

Regional Department of Labor offices:

Boston 617-565-2270
New York 212-337-2145
Philadelphia 215-596-6374
Atlanta 404-562-2109
Chicago 312-353-1937
Dallas 214-767-2154
Kansas City 816-416-3796, ext. 226
San Francisco 415-975-4655
Seattle 206-553-5642, ext. 8031

More information:

The DOL Employment and Training Administration Web Site provides access to the Welfare-to-Work Competitive Grants Notices:



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