Many years ago I had the wild idea to start a deliberately nonprofit technology company in the heart of Silicon Valley. I knew that technology, when applied for social good, promised to usher in positive and sustainable change. Today’s 10 million download milestone is a celebration of our ability to deliver on that promise.
Ten million is more than a big number. It represents our ability to scale technology for global impact. It demonstrates what is possible when technology makes it 80x cheaper to create and 15x cheaper to deliver an accessible book. It shows our ability to empower communities in need with the tools to succeed.
Today’s milestone is worth celebrating, but like any good social entrepreneur, I’m focused on what’s next. What innovation needs to take place so the hundreds of millions of individuals who are unable to read standard print can access every published book? How can we realize our Born Accessible dream of all digital content serving blind people and sighted people equally? What investments can we make today in order to have the greatest impact tomorrow? Finding answers to these hard questions through scalable technology solutions is what motivates me and the entire Benetech team.
Bookshare’s success provides a proven model for answering these questions. First, we must identify technology-driven solutions that will be 10x better or 10x cheaper (or both!) in delivering social impact. Next, we must engage our communities to test prototypes and to separate the good ideas from the truly great ideas. We will then take the best projects, inject the needed capital and scale them for global impact. The Bookshare model guided us to our 10 million milestone, and it’s a key model that will guide us to identify, develop and scale technology to tackle the hard questions we ask ourselves every day.
Moving forward, we will work hand-in-hand with school districts, libraries and our nonprofit partner organizations to make digital content accessible to everyone who needs it. We will work with publishers to ensure the right tools, standards and best practices are available to build accessibility into all content when it is first created. Globally, we will engage the communities we serve until every person can access every book in the way he or she needs to succeed.
I look forward to sharing more milestones on our mission to empower communities in need by creating scalable technology solutions. I hope you’ll come along with me and the Benetech team on this wild ride.
Check out the press release to learn more about this exciting milestone.
A new school year is a new opportunity to build the relationships that strengthen the foundations of support that are so important for our students with disabilities. As one parent engagement professional stated, “Parents and schools should reach out and open lines of communication in a time of peace before that first poor grade or behavior issue. Find out how people would like to be addressed and their preferred method of communication.”
But how does a parent start the conversation in a way that is focused on strengths just as much as need? A Positive Student Profile is a great way to introduce a child to teachers at the beginning of the school year. Here’s an example of one way to introduce the profile, which can be customized to fit your student:
Dear Mr. Rogers,
Alex and I are excited about this new school year! I am writing to share some things I believe will help make this successful year for him. You likely received Alex’s individualized education program and are thinking about how to implement the supports and accommodations listed in his IEP. But while the IEP does a good job of describing Alex’s learning and needs, it doesn’t fully describe him or who he is. I am including a profile (http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/pbp-student-profile/) that Alex prepared that tells about his interests, his strengths, and what works best for him to help him learn.
Our family has high expectations for Alex, just as we have for his sister. And we know that he requires some supports and accommodations to meet these expectations. We are always looking for information about Alex’s abilities and challenges. We have come across several resources that have really helped us and Alex’s teachers work together to help Alex learn. Here are some that might be of interest…
Want more tips on how to make the best of the new school year? The Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) or Community Parent Resource Center (CPRC) in an area or state is an excellent source of resources, materials, support and connections for families of children with disabilities. PTIs and CPRCs can help families understand student’s education rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. They can also help families understand more about their child’s disability and needs as well as promising practices in education. In addition, they can help families learn how to effectively communicate and work with school personnel and other providers in meeting their child’s needs. PTIs and CPRCs provide information on the phone, through workshops (in-person, on-line, live and pre-recorded) and through a treasure trove of materials and resources that are shared on their websites and social media. They may also provide these materials in other languages based upon the needs of families in the community.
Centers are run by well-trained and knowledgeable staff, most of whom have children with disabilities themselves. PTIs and CPRCs answer families’ questions with practical advice or refer families to other organizations in the families’ community that can help. Most centers also extend their training and information services to professionals who work with children with disabilities and their families. And through the PTIs and CPRCs, families can also connect with other families and professionals for support and problem solving.
Many families can feel overwhelmed dealing with multiple issues raised by their child’s needs. PTIs and CPRCs help families sort through the issues and provide strategies to help parents and professionals address them together.
Finally, the new school year is an excellent time for students, no matter what their age, to learn how to advocate for themselves. Whether it’s focusing on using a communication device to indicate what they want or need, or leading their own individualized education plans, parents and teachers can work together to include self-advocacy skills in all that they do with students with disabilities. One good resource is the RAISE Center, Resources for Access, Independence, Self-Advocacy and Employment, also funded by the Department of Education, and the National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Here’s to a positive, productive new school year for all students!
About the Guest Bloggers
Carmen Sánchez is an Education Program Specialist in the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. She is the program lead for the Parent Center Program, which consists of grants for Parent Training and Information (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) to train, inform, and engage families of children with disabilities throughout the country; and a national, six regional, and two topical technical assistance centers that support the PTIs and CPRCs. She is also the mother of a young adult with disabilities.
Debra Jennings is the Executive Co-Director of SPAN, a parent-led non-profit organization that empowers families as advocates and partners in improving education, health, and mental health outcomes for infants, toddlers, children and youth. Debra leads SPAN’s parent leadership development activities and also directs SPAN’s national technical assistance centers that are funded by the U.S. Department of Education to provide information, resources and support for the almost 90 Parent Training and Information Centers and Community Parent Resource Centers serving families of children with disabilities and also youth/young adults with disabilities across the U.S. and its territories.
I want to draw your attention to today’s News Release from the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner regarding the importance of inclusive education for all people, including persons with disabilities. Sometimes I think we forget that our shared work to develop more inclusive schools is, in fact, the foundation of peace in our communities and in our world. Thank you for your peacebuilding work; we have so much more to do.
As you enter the new school year, I hope you will find many opportunities to reflect on Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which the U.S. ratified after World War II. The UDHR serves as the foundational document for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and for all of the other human rights conventions. The CRPD contains no new rights, but helps to explain how modern nations have agreed to interpret the rights of persons with disabilities.
Article 1 of the UDHR reads:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
I have a UDHR app on my smart phone so that I may try to learn more. I hope you will look it up, too. It is amazing how applicable it is in daily life.
I was suspended multiple times each year from the time I started school until I entered high school. The trouble I found myself in seemed minor and was often the result of my natural curiosity: climbing on the roof of the auditorium to see what the playground looked like from that angle; taking the heads, arms, and legs off baby dolls to see how their body parts fit together; and sharpening pencils down to the erasers to see how long it would take. I was busy. I was curious. My teachers had difficulty knowing how to support this curiosity within the classroom.
The recent data documenting the high rates of suspension and expulsion in early childhood programs should be a wake-up call for all of us. African American preschoolers and boys are being suspended at rates that are alarming and expose serious issues with disproportionate discipline practices. These data suggest that programs are not sure how to understand and address child behavior that is regarded as challenging, that discipline practices are likely influenced by biases, and that programs and practitioners need additional support to effectively educate all children.
The Obama Administration’s initiative, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) is focused on ensuring that all youth, including boys and young men of color, have opportunities to improve their life outcomes and overcome barriers to success. MBK has outlined six milestones, the first of which is Getting a Healthy Start and Entering School Ready to Learn. We know that early childhood presents a profound opportunity to advance children’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. We also know that children who are suspended in preschool are more likely to be suspended throughout their school career. MBK includes a key recommendation to eliminate suspension and expulsions in early learning settings. (View the ED and HHS Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Practices in Early Childhood Settings to learn more.)
A first step towards addressing this issue is the development of policies that end the practice of suspension and expulsion of young children from the programs that were developed to help them learn the critical social, emotional and academic readiness skills to be successful in school. The second step is to ensure that early childhood educators and programs can implement effective practices so that all children can be successful in preschool.
Supporting Early Childhood Teachers and Programs
One of the greatest needs that teachers have is how to address challenging behavior. Many teachers report that they do not feel that they are knowledgeable or skilled in this. Suspensions and expulsions occur when teachers lack the expertise and the program support to prevent and address behaviors they identify as unwanted, annoying, and aggressive. Without support there is a greater likelihood that children will be suspended.
The perceptions teachers have of boys and children of color, may be influenced by unconscious gender and racial bias. Many programs operate on the values of the dominant culture. Children bring to school the culture and values of their home and community. These conflicting values can create cultural disconnects based on mismatched behavioral and educational expectations.
The challenges that teachers and programs face in addressing behavior, teaching children social and emotional skills, understanding their own biases, and using culturally responsive practices require more than training. These challenges require a program-wide approach where administrators are committed and teachers are trained, supported, and guided to implement effective practices.
Pyramid Equity Project
Through the Departments of Education and of Health and Human Services’ Preschool Development Grants Program, the Pyramid Equity Project will collaborate with programs to demonstrate the use of a multi-tiered system of support for promoting social competence in young children that has been designed to address issues related to disproportionate discipline and the use of culturally responsive practices in early learning programs. In these program-wide demonstrations, the Pyramid Model for Promoting the Social Emotional Competence of Infants and Young Children will be used along with enhancements for addressing implicit bias, implementing culturally responsive practices, and using data systems to understand potential discipline equity issues. The Pyramid Model provides a framework of early childhood teaching practices that are organized in tiers to include the promotion of social and emotional skills of all children, the prevention of challenging behavior of children at risk of challenging behavior, and individualized interventions for children with persistent challenging behavior.
Program-wide implementation will involve establishing a program implementation team that will meet monthly to establish and support staff buy-in, promote family engagement, establish systems for providing individualized intervention, provide professional development and classroom coaching to teachers, and use data for decision-making on how to improve implementation, intervention, and outcomes.
There is no evidence to support suspension as an effective intervention for improving behavior but unfortunately for many it has become standard practice for addressing inappropriate behavior. Most early childhood teachers enter the field with a heart for children and a desire to make a difference. Children enter early childhood programs bright-eyed, curious and ready to learn. When we give teachers the tools they need to implement an engaging strong developmentally appropriate program, prevent and address challenging behaviors and identify and respond to implicit bias, and give children the social and emotional skills they need to be successful in the classroom, we can stop suspensions.
By Skip Stahl, Daryl F. Mellard, and Theron (Bill) East
The rapid spread of digital technologies and online learning is fundamentally altering elementary and secondary education. These new technologies and learning environments have great potential to personalize education for all learners and create an environment that provides more equitable opportunities for students with disabilities to participate, learn, and achieve in academic and social domains. Simultaneously, online learning environments also bring with them new challenges for policy-makers, educators, curriculum developers, researchers, parents and students. Research, however, has been very limited in describing, testing, and accumulating the information needed to guide policy and practice. For the past four years the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities has been exploring this rapidly changing landscape, the opportunities and challenges of online learning and their impact on learners with physical, sensory, cognitive and behavioral needs.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provisions (e.g., free appropriate public education (FAPE)) were enacted with the understanding that students would be educated in face-to-face school and classroom-based settings. With increased expansion of online learning opportunities, however, that frame of reference is incomplete. Now students’ educational experiences might be fully online or some combination of classroom-based and online settings. The latter is commonly referred to as a blended environment. Consequently, students now have opportunities to control more of their education such as the schedule, pace and depth with which they complete their studies.
Numerous questions also arise regarding this digital shift in educational opportunities and IDEA implementation. When a student attending a traditional brick and mortar school is identified as having a disability, educators, parents, and other relevant stakeholders develop an individualized education program (IEP) that defines present levels of achievement and establishes goals for academic and social growth. A student’s IEP follows the student if the student changes schools or even moves to another state. The responsibility for addressing these details falls to the local educational agency (LEA) that is the student’s “home” school. Today, digital learning options may be delivered locally by national vendors or online schools located in other states—a significant shift in the education landscape; however, the same IEP requirements and protections continue to apply to children with disabilities in these settings. Given this shift, the Center has conducted a policy scan of states’ readily available information to better understand the policy and guidance that is available to educators, parents, and other interested stakeholders about implementing IDEA in the online settings (e.g., child find provisions, general supervision, IEP development, and FAPE). Apparent from this policy scan is that significant gaps exist in the policy and guidance as they pertain to the online environment and the education of students with disabilities and their families. On the positive side, new information is being disseminated that indicates that these topics are important to state educational agencies (SEA) and that their staffs are working to address these gaps to ensure that the IDEA requirements are being implemented in online settings.
Through the Center’s various research projects and research of others, we have learned that stakeholders in digital learning environments all understand that digital learning environments have changed both the what and how of learning for all students. One group particularly impacted is parents whose role as teachers or coaches greatly expands for those students participating in full-time virtual schools. For the parents of elementary and secondary students with disabilities, in particular, online learning may present an array of unanticipated challenges. Participants attending a series of Center Forums indicated that parents may face challenges associated with added time requirements, their technological savvy, their teaching skills, and the context of the digital environment that they didn’t encounter while their children were attending the traditional brick and mortar school setting. These challenges indicate a need to better clarify the appropriate role of parents working to support students with disabilities in digital learning environments. It is important to remember that SEAs and LEAs, not parents, bear the responsibility for providing the special education and related services necessary to ensure FAPE for children with disabilities in digital learning environments. For more information, please see the ED Guidance Regarding Education to Children with Disabilities Attending Public Virtual Schools (PDF | 336 KB).
Online learning has introduced substantial contextual variability and students with disabilities are, by definition, a highly diverse group with highly differentiated needs. The Center’s Annual Publication, Equity Matters, highlights both the challenges and opportunities that online learning presents to state and local educational agencies, parents, teachers and students in the hopes of expanding the conversation.
Going forward, efforts designed to clarify the relationship of IDEA principles to the online context requires continued careful thinking and a thoughtful analysis in providing services to students with disabilities. The potential for this digital revolution to improve meaningful, quality of life experiences for students with disabilities is significant and awaits our engagement and collective effort.
The preparation of this document was provided by the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities, a grant from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education (H327U110011). Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Education, and such endorsements should not be inferred. For information about the Center, go to http://centerononlinelearning.org/.
Effective education faces many challenges: chronic absenteeism, dropout, diversity inequities, antisocial conduct and violence, emotional and behavioral disorders, suspensions and expulsions. We suggest that the solution emphasize the adoption of a two-prong prevention approach that considers informed decision making, selection of evidence-based practices, and implementation of culturally relevant tiered systems of support.
The Long-Vision on Prevention
The first prong is a long-vision on prevention that requires a systematic and deliberate implementation of daily proactive practices. Prevention is more than “catching kids early.” It is about “vaccinating” all children against the adoption or learning of socially and educationally damaging behaviors. This vaccination requires a daily dose of social skills instruction, practice, and reinforcement on everyday expectations and routines that are imbedded into every instructional and social interaction.
At a universal level, we focus on a few school- and classroom-wide traits or values (e.g., respect self, others, and property; or responsibility, respect, and safety) that are defined by specific behavioral examples and linked to typical classroom (e.g., lecture, independent study, transition) and school (e.g., hallways, assemblies, cafeteria, field trips, entering/exiting the school) contexts. Although environmental cues (e.g., posters, signage) are useful, the real impact occurs during each moment-to-moment and day-to-day teaching and social interaction.
From a long-vision perspective, prevention also means having an explicit continuum of evidence-based practices that enables predictable and efficient supports for students who need more than the universal dose of social skills instruction. The investment is on the following priorities:
Development of decision-based data systems that enable efficient universal screening, continuous progress monitoring, and regular checks of implementation fidelity.
Use of the smallest combination of most effective intervention strategies that can enhance the most important educational outcomes.
Coordination or leadership team that is unwaveringly focused on high fidelity delivery of these practices and systems.
Long-vision on prevention includes giving equal priority to the tiered implementation of effective instructional curriculum and targeted differentiated instruction for all learners, especially those with learning-risk (e.g., access to instruction, disability, mental health issues).
If the long vision is given implementation priority, the long-term prevention outcomes can be significant:
reductions in norm-violating behavior,
increases in student self-management behaviors,
decreases in teasing and harassment,
increases in reported positive classroom and school climates,
decreases in the use of reactive management practices, and
increases in attendance and academic engagement.
The Short-Vision on Prevention
The short-vision prong emphasizes implementation of immediate and daily prevention practices, that is, what we do every day, all day, and across all school settings to reduce the likelihood of minor and major behavior incidents and increase the probability of prosocial behavior.
Every staff member during every lesson must:
Set challenging and achievable academic and behavior goals for every student.
Model positive examples of the same social skills and behaviors expected from students.
Prompt/cue and recognize desired social behavior at higher rates than are used for negative or norm-violating behavior.
Maximize every minute for successful academic and behavioral engagements.
Continuously and actively supervise all students across all settings at all times.
On an hourly and daily basis, minor behavior incidents (e.g., noises, wandering, off task) should be treated constructively, quickly, and quietly. Incidents of minor disruptive behavior represent teachable moments or opportunities to remind students of the desired behavior and to prompt and reinforce future opportunities to be successful. The process of handling minor problem behaviors should never sacrifice instruction time for any student, and if minor behaviors become chronic, the focus shifts toward a plan that rearranges conditions so that the opportunity to engage in problem behavior is reduced or eliminated.
Every major behavior event (e.g., fighting, intentional inappropriate behavior, harassment, disruptive non-compliance) should be treated as a “bad” habit that has worked for the student in the past and is highly likely under specific situations. Because a bad habit by definition is chronic, habituated, and efficient, solutions must be much more informed and targeted. That is, the intervention must be based on a specific understanding of the triggering and maintaining conditions and development of a specialized intervention that formally cues and rewards desired behavior and carefully eliminates competing cues and rewards for problem behavior. This plan must provide at least hourly implementation schedules, especially in the most likely problem behavior settings, by individuals who are better at doing the intervention than the student is at doing the problem behavior. Daily progress monitoring is required to enable immediate tweaking of the intervention to improve effectiveness and efficiency.
Prevention is More than Practices
Effective implementation of this two-prong approach requires more than careful selection and organization of evidence-based practices. Efficient systems must be in place to support staff implementation. These systems include strong school and district leadership that is effectively distributed at the classroom, grade level, department, and school levels. In our most challenged schools, effective principals must be instructional leaders and given at least 3–5 years to establish a durable effective and positive school culture. In addition, principals should share and distribute meaningful leadership authority to important teams (e.g., climate committees, behavior support teams, grade level and department teams) for durable implementation capacity. Daily decision-making must be guided by easily accessible and interpretable data and efficient teaming.
The full set of behavior support practices must be organized in an implementable and integrated manner, that is, a multi-tiered continuum of support. Establishment and implementation of this continuum are guided by some simple but important principles:
Carefully define the behavioral needs of classrooms and school-wide settings.
Based on these needs, eliminate practices that are no longer needed or effective and select the best evidence-based practices that have documented good outcomes related to these needs.
Establish data systems based on decision rules for progress monitoring and differentiation of supports.
Align and integrate all practices so that three general support tiers are in place:
Tier 1—all students, all staff, all settings;
Tier 2—targeted and group implemented; and
Tier 3—intensive and individualized interventions.
Contemporary school and classroom challenges must be defined, verified, and discussed. However, emphasis must be shifted quickly from rumination to prevention. A prevention-based multi-tiered system of practices requires moment-to-moment, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year engagement. Practice selection and adoption are necessary but insufficient. Equal, if not more, attention must be directed toward systemic or organizational supports (leadership, decision making, support continuum) that enable implementation to be effective, efficient, durable, and relevant. If implementation fidelity is high and sustained, preventing the development and occurrences of our contemporary challenges is thinkable and doable, and effective classroom and school organizations with common vision, language, and experiences are possible.
 The preparation of this document was supported in part by the Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and a grant from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education (H326S980003), Project Officer Renee Bradley. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Education, and such endorsements should not be inferred. For information about the Center, go to www.pbis.org, or for information related to this manuscript, contact George Sugai at George.email@example.com.
This is a cross-post of an Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education’s Blog post.
Today, July 26, is the anniversary of the signing in 1990 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In recognition of the spirit of the Act, we are pleased to recommit to the important work of making our programs inclusive and accessible to all.
Disability is part of the human experience, and one of the variables that contribute to the rich diversity of our nation. Disability is not a static condition—people can experience a disability from birth, or develop a disability as a result of genetics, aging, or trauma. Disability does not discriminate—anyone can acquire a disability, at any time. Individuals with disabilities are neighbors, teachers, community leaders, and parents. They are workers, managers, corporate CEOs, and healthcare providers. Individuals with disabilities can and do participate in all realms of work, and their strong participation is vital to our economic growth.
According to the American Community Survey, in 2014, the resident population in the United States was estimated to be approximately 319.9 million individuals; and of this, approximately 31.9 million individuals have some kind of disability, including both apparent and non-apparent disabilities. Yet individuals with disabilities still face barriers to full, family-sustaining employment.
On June 21, 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics. The data on persons with a disability are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that provides statistics on employment and unemployment in the United States. Based on this report, in 2015, 17.5 percent of persons with a disability were employed. The unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 10.7 percent in 2015, compared to 5.1 percent for those without a disability. Some key findings (and where to find them in the report) include:
Among all educational attainment groups, unemployment rates were higher for persons with a disability than for those without a disability. (Table 1)
Persons with a disability are less likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher than those with no disability. (Table 1)
Across all levels of education, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than were their counterparts without a disability. (Table 1)
Thirty-two percent of workers with a disability were employed part-time, compared with 18 percent for those without a disability. (Table 2)
Persons with a disability were more heavily concentrated in service occupations than those without a disability (21.7 percent compared with 17.2 percent) and less likely to work in management, professional, and related occupations than those without a disability (31.3 percent compared with 39.2 percent). (Table 3)
The jobless rate was higher for minorities with a disability (17.4 percent for Blacks and 13.3 percent for Hispanics) than among Whites (9.6 percent) and Asians (7.4 percent). (Table 1)
Inclusion of individuals with disabilities cannot be an afterthought. We—the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the U.S Department of Labor (DOL), the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)/the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), and the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and our grantees—will continue to consider the experiences of individuals with disabilities, be intentional about including disability in our policy and program documents, incorporate universal design in our service delivery strategies, and continue to be inclusive in our use of language. Moreover, we will continue to ensure that youth and adults with disabilities can access our education, training, and workforce programs and successfully complete them. We will work closely with America’s employers and our local partners in the workforce development system to ensure physical, programmatic, and employment access across the board. Finally, we must continue to actively foster a culture in which individuals are supported and accepted for who they are, without fear of discrimination based on disability.
In full support of this call to action, we will make improvements to the programs we are responsible for administering in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and complementary programs that affect the opportunities of individuals with disabilities. We will strengthen alignment and find new ways to provide better services to more people through close collaboration at the national, state, local, and tribal levels among our respective programs.
Significant work is already under way. OSERS/RSA, and OCTAE will soon release technical assistance resources focused on expanding access and support for individuals with disabilities in education programs under WIOA—especially through career pathways, a model endorsed by 12 federal agencies. DOL’s ODEP, ETA, and Civil Rights Center have issued a set of best practices for physical and programmatic accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, we are gathering concrete examples of promising practices, partnerships, and interventions offered by core and partner programs under WIOA. We are seeking examples of innovations focused on changing the prospects of youth and adults with disabilities, for possible inclusion in the resources. If you are aware of such efforts, please tell us about them either by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In particular, we are interested in your answers to the following questions:
How are the WIOA core and partner programs in your community creating a welcoming environment for people with visible and hidden disabilities?
How are the WIOA core and partner programs in your community ensuring that American Job Centers and career workforce education and training services are accessible to individuals with disabilities?
How are the WIOA core and partner programs in your community using data to effectively identify individuals with disabilities, determine customized interventions, and monitor the effectiveness of your supports?
How are the WIOA core and partner programs using multiple funding sources to assure that individuals with disabilities have the services and supports needed to succeed?
Can you share examples of promising career pathways programs that are improving outcomes for individuals with disabilities?
We are always looking for innovative ways to expand opportunities for individuals with disabilities through demonstration grants. Here are two key examples:
ED has recently initiated a five-year, $3.5 million per year Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities (CPID) model demonstration program in Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Virginia. The purpose of the program is to demonstrate replicable promising practices in the use of career pathways: to enable VR-eligible individuals with disabilities, including youth with disabilities; to acquire marketable skills and recognized postsecondary credentials; and, to secure competitive integrated employment in high-demand, high-quality occupations. Program activities are being designed and implemented in partnership with secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, American Job Centers, workforce training providers, social and human service organizations, employers, and other Federal career pathways initiatives.
The DOL’s Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) expands the capacity of the workforce system to improve the education, training, and employment outcomes of youth and adults with disabilities, and uses a career pathway framework to increase opportunities. DEI is funded jointly by ETA and ODEP; these agencies published a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for a seventh round of these grants for state workforce agencies on June 27, 2016. The FOA can be found at grants.gov and it closes August 1, 2016. We encourage states to apply. The newest grantees will be announced in the coming weeks.
As a nation, we must continue to promote inclusion and to break down the barriers that remain—in hearts, in minds, in habits, and in policies—to the security and prosperity that stable jobs provide and that all people deserve. Thank you for your partnership in this important work.
Johan E. Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary, delegated the duties of the Assistant Secretary, for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.
Sue Swenson is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
Janet L. LaBreck is the Commissioner for the Rehabilitation Services Administration.
Portia Wu is the Assistant Secretary for the Employment Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Gerri Fiala is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Employment Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Jennifer Sheehy is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.
 Educational attainment data are presented for those age 25 and over.
Friday marked the two-year anniversary of President Obama signing into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (or WIOA for short). Last month, the Departments of Labor and Education, in close collaboration with the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development, made publicly available the final rules implementing WIOA. We are excited to continue the conversation around WIOA and we are committed to making sure WIOA works for all job-seekers, workers, and employers as the departments implement the final rules.
Watch this video with U.S. Secretary of Education John King and U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez highlighting a success story resulting from local, state, and federal agencies collaborating under one roof.
Janet Terry, winner of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Achievement Award for the Outstanding Senior Community Service Employment Program Participant.
Steps to Success
In 2012, when Janet Terry stepped into the PA CareerLink, an American Job Center, in Pittsburgh, Penn., she brought with her an extensive criminal background and a history of substance abuse dating back to when she was just 16. Through the American Job Center, Janet connected with the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), where her vocational rehabilitation counselor assisted Janet with enrolling in the Community College of Allegheny County’s Modern Office Systems Training (MOST) program. Before Janet could begin administrative assistant training with MOST, she needed extensive computer training, which she received through the Allegheny County Senior Training and Employment Program (STEP). Janet graduated from STEP six months later certified at 50 words per minute with 98 percent accuracy. Janet also participated in the STEP Monthly Job Club, where she learned successful job search skills, along with how to write an effective resume and cover letter. As a result of the knowledge and skills gained from STEP and MOST, Allegheny County hired Janet in 2015 as an administrative assistant earning $10/hour with health benefits.
Because of her successful reintegration into society, Janet no longer reports weekly to her parole officer and she is in the process of seeking a governor’s pardon. Janet works full-time and recently received a promotion with a raise! Of all her accomplishments, she most values the respect and trust she has earned from her family, friends, and peers. Janet’s success did not go unnoticed by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, which presented her with the Governor’s Achievement Award for Outstanding Senior Community Service Employment Program participant! And, Janet’s success was also recently highlighted by Secretary of Education John King in a video released by the U.S. departments of Education (ED) and Labor (DOL), in partnership with Health and Human Services (HHS), announcing that the final rules of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) are publicly available.
ED, DOL, and HHS Support
Workers and job seekers, like Janet, can seamlessly access a system of high-quality career services, education, and training through the one-stop service delivery system, known as the American Job Centers, and its partners. Janet’s success through the American Job Center was supported in part by programs in:
ED’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services’ (OSERS) Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)
ED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE)
DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA)
HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF)
More about WIOA
WIOA, signed by President Obama on July 22, 2014, is the first major reform to federal job training programs in more than 15 years. WIOA is designed to improve the coordination of employment and training services across federal agencies, strengthen collaboration with state and local partners, and provide Americans with increased access to training, education, and other support to succeed in the job market and in their careers. WIOA is aimed at increasing opportunities, particularly for those facing barriers to employment including individuals with disabilities, and invests in the important connection between education and career preparation.
ED and DOL, in partnership with HHS, have collectively issued five rules to implement WIOA and resources such as fact sheets and reference guides. For more information, please visit the following WIOA homepages: RSA, OCTAE, and ETA.
This is a cross post from an
Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education Blog post
The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) has been shining a spotlight on the challenges faced by disconnected youth and the programming models focused on their challenges for the past several years. These are youth roughly 16 to 24 years of age, who are not engaged in education and not employed. They may be living at home or be homeless. They may be in or may have emancipated from the foster care system. They may be high school non-completers or those who have completed some college courses or received credentials. They may live in urban, rural or suburban communities. They may be in or released from justice-involved facilities. They may be single, married, and/or parents.
With this post, OCTAE kicks off a blog series examining what we know about disconnected youth, promising programming models, and the data used to track progress in reconnecting youth with education, training, employment, community, and their families.
We use the term “disconnected” youth, as this is the term used in the statutes and authorities that allow OCTAE to support disconnected youth. These “disconnected” youth have also been called “opportunity” youth.
Youth Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)
If you are like me, you like good news more than bad news. That is why many of us in the youth development and education fields were ecstatic to learn that there are almost 300,000 fewer youth who are disconnected than there were in 2010. That is great news.
Not such great news is that these gains vary a lot—and we would argue, too much—depending on where youth live and their race, gender, ethnicity, and home language. Of equal concern is that there are still more than 5 million disconnected youth in our country.
The new data from the Survey of Adult Skills can inform us about youth in the United States who are Not in Employment, Education, or Training, or NEET youth, as the OECD calls these youth.
The U.S. National Supplement of the Survey of Adult Skills, released on March 10, 2016, reported on an enhanced sample in the U.S. that oversampled the unemployed, young adults (ages 16-34), and older adults (ages 66-74). These data allow us to examine the education and work status of youth, their educational and family backgrounds, skill use at work and in everyday life, and proficiency of directly-assessed foundation skills (literacy, numeracy, and digital problem solving).
As the Survey of Adult Skills data have shown, in the U.S. economy, skills matter – almost as much as a credential. The question then becomes: what skills do NEET youth possess? Do they have the foundation skills they need to re-connect and get ahead?
The U.S. National Supplement found that nearly 5% of 16-24 year olds were in NEET status, that is, not engaged in employment, education or training in the 12 months before responding to the Survey. Many of these NEET youth have very low skills. A quarter of NEET youth perform below Level 2 in literacy, and 45% perform as low in numeracy.
The literacy and numeracy domains of the Survey are reported in five levels; skills below Level 2 are considered “low-skilled” according to the OECD, which means that one’s skills are so basic they may prevent an individual from advancing or being able to take advantage of training opportunities that could lead to advancement.
By contrast, youth (age 16-24) who are engaged in education and/or employment tend to score higher in both domains. Less than 16% of youth who are enrolled in formal education and/or are employed score below Level 2 in literacy, and less than 33% score below Level 2 in numeracy.
We need to better understand who the NEET youth are so that we can provide them with opportunities to raise their skills.
These findings trigger many additional critical questions. How many youth, for instance, are young parents? How many are English language learners? How many have a disability? How many are poor or low income? How many are living on their own? Many more analyses can and must be done. Fortunately, the data are here (note: the U.S. National Supplement data is to be released summer 2016) that facilitate further learning.
I think we are at an important point in time. We know that some of our work is paying off. Having nearly 300,000 fewer disconnected youth in six years is no small feat. We also need to acknowledge, though, that what we are doing is almost like tinkering around the edges. We need a strategy that works for over 5 million youth. We need to supplement what we do with a strategy that is at scale by design. That strategy must have a prevention component to it, as well as components that re-connect youth and involve them as leaders in the effort.
Watch for future posts that will spotlight more data and positive programming models.
 The enhanced sample will also include individuals who were incarcerated. Findings from those data will be released later in 2016. Data from incarcerated individuals are not included in the data cited here.