Challenges and Barriers to Successful Employment for Man with Visual Impairment

By Louis Herrera

Louis Herrera

Louis Herrera

I was born with normal eyesight, and at the age of three and a half it was determined that I had a visual impairment. By the time that I was about seven years old, I had lost most of my eyesight.

At the inquisitive age of four, I wanted to know how things work and how a box could have different voices coming out of it. Learning about radios was the beginning of a path to a career in the technology industry.

At the age of 15 I built my first computer at a time when components were starting to decrease in size.

Jerry-Rigged IT Systems

In the early 80s, I went to work for a Fortune 500 aerospace company. I was hired as an “experimental employee” because they had never hired a blind person before.

Back then there was hardly any assistive technology to speak of. Several companies were starting to develop a screen reader for MS-DOS, but in many cases these screen readers only worked with some specific programs.

Some of us with visual impairments, in order to maintain our jobs, had to be creative and figure out a way to generate speech output.

For me, I used an old Votrax speech synthesizer like a printer driver. Every time I wanted to know what was on the screen, I executed a print command that would convert the data on the screen to a format that Votrax could read and then speak aloud in probably the worst speech synthesizer voice that one would want to hear. Nevertheless, I was able to get the job done.

As technology continued to evolve in terms of processing speed and better video graphics, it paved the way for the beginning of a graphical user interface, which today is commonly known as Windows. This progress made it difficult for the blind user to keep up with the new changes because the screen reader at that time could not accommodate off-the-shelf hardware and software improvements. Partially-sighted people had to modify video settings to accommodate their visual requirements.

Mobile Devices

As technology continued to move towards a touch screen environment with no real interaction solution for the blind consumer, it seemed as though the blind and individuals with various degrees of visual impairment would not be able to move away from conventional mechanical user interface technology like the flip phones with the tactile keypad.

Once multilayered technology was introduced to hardware and software developers, companies like Apple and Google started to develop a user interface that consisted of gestures and tapping concepts that allowed for the interaction and execution of commands and operations.

As part of their Universal Access initiative in 2007, Apple introduced VoiceOver, a screen reader output interface for the iPhone 3GS. Apple demonstrated that touch technology could be made accessible for everyone, and in today’s work environment mobile technology is something that we all depend on.

We still have to deal with third-party applications that have the potential to be used by the visually impaired community, but we can’t use these apps because the developers either are not familiar with accessibility coding guidelines or choose to make apps more visually appealing in the hope that screen readers will provide a level of accessibility for the blind or visually impaired user.

One of the first barriers that we had to deal with had to do with educating the developers on what text-to-speech technology is and how it differs from speech recognition. This has been a problem for a long time and will continue to be a problem that affects us because developers believe speech recognition programs meet our needs. The reality is that these programs make it possible to receive speech input, but they do not read what appears on the screen.

In the case of smartphones, many app developers feel that built-in artificial intelligence (AI) programs are the same as the devices’ built-in screen readers (Apple’s Siri vs. VoiceOver, Android’s Google Assistant vs. TalkBack, Windows’ Cortana vs. Narrator) and that the built-in AI programs are all the visually-impaired user requires. Unfortunately, these AI programs are voice-driven search services that will in most instances provide audio feedback, but they are not screen readers that function without internet connectivity.

The issues described above are quite common in the desktop environment as well. The best way to resolve this issue is by requiring developers to submit their applications to a level of accessibility compliance verification before an application is deployed.

Technology in the Workplace

While technology has come a very long way and has made it possible for the blind and visually impaired to be competitive employees, there are many road blocks to still overcome for equality in the workplace.

Even with all the new advances in technology and software development today, blind or visually impaired professionals are still encountering barriers with their ability to carry out their job duties.

For example, the idea of providing PDF file attachments so that anyone, regardless of the platform being used, should be able to open the file can sometimes be an issue for some of us that use screen readers or screen magnification tools.

Often because of company policy, we are issued a computer equipped with a common commercially-available PDF reader, which does not do well making PDF images accessible. Some companies, like my employer, have smart printers/copiers that can scan a document and generate a PDF image that is not easily converted to text that can be read by the screen reader. Sometimes it is easier to print the image file and then use an optical character recognition tool to scan and read it. This is time consuming and a waste of paper.

Another on-the-job issue that we face is a lack of quality interaction and support with Information Technology (IT). While the IT staff is able to maintain and support staff using the general issued computers and software, they often don’t have the knowledge or experience to install, configure and maintain the adaptive technology.

If the IT specialist installs the specialized adaptive software, many times they do not install it correctly causing the program to fail to operate properly or at all due to the lack of the resource requirements needed for the software to run efficiently.

This is like keeping a car engine pristine with four flat tires.

In many cases, permission to update the software as needed is denied due to company policies, which leaves the assistive technology unable to keep up with the many updates and changes that the operating system and other programs the IT department regularly update to keep the hardware and software running at peak performance.

Support in the Workplace

My previous job as well as other companies will hire an assistive technology specialist to install the needed software and provide specialized scripting for the software to run on the company created software.

The software runs great until the first major update the IT specialist pushes to all computers on the network. This can affect scripting performance that was created so that the disabled user could fulfill his/her job. Often the assistive technology user has to make due with inadequate software accommodations until the company will bring in the assistive technology specialist again at a substantial fee to reinstall the scripts or create new ones if needed.

These costs and roadblocks could be minimized if employers include the employee who will be using the assistive technology so that he or she can provide input during the discussion and planning phase up to the point that it gets delivered and installed.

Developing and implementing all-inclusive collaborative meetings to address assistive technology needs will yield a more positive interactive communication and success among all participants.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

My story: The Benefits of Working with Agencies like the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind

Odyssey Sea

Odyssey Sea

By Odyssey Sea

Getting a job right after I graduated was a very exciting and scary experience. Luckily, I had Washington State Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) staff to help me along the way because without their help, experiencing new things would have been difficult. At first, I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after high school. Luckily DSB staff stepped in and helped me figure out some things. I am getting job experiences with different companies like the Museum of Flight and at PAVE, a nonprofit that assists young adults like me. PAVE also assists parents, families and anyone connected to a child, youth or young adult with disabilities.

Reasonable accommodations were part of this experience. Some of the new experiences that worked for me were asking for accommodations such as getting a larger keyboard so it would be easier to see and type. Another accommodation I had was using an iPad to use the speech to text feature. This helps me get my thoughts in order instead of typing them out.

DSB also helped me get situated to find the right resources such as how to use shuttle services. It took a while to fill out all the paperwork but in the end, it was very simple to figure out and the wait was worth it.

They have helped me find job experiences which have helped me get to the job and do the work, stay busy and get ready for the real world.

I encourage you to try to get the help from agencies like the DSB or any other agency that will help you get a job. They will guide you all along the way!


Background on YES Programs that Assisted Odyssey

Programmatic Information:

Youth Employment Solutions (YES) II is a six-week program in Seattle, Wash., designed to provide valuable work experience and learning to high school students, age 16 through high school graduation. Accepted candidates are provided five weeks of paid work experience at internships created for them in cooperation with Seattle-area businesses. Positions are assigned to students based on their interests, abilities, and experience.

YES II is a residential living experience that provides students the opportunity to refine their daily living skills, such as planning, purchasing and preparing meals, and maintaining their own personal effects and common living quarters at the YES residence. Additionally, students learn skills in using public transportation techniques for travel to worksites. They are encouraged to participate in community social and recreational activities.

Washington State Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) provides training, counselling, and support to help Washington residents of all ages, who are blind or visually impaired, pursue employment, education, and independent living. Our goal is “Inclusion, Independence, and Economic Vitality for People with Visual Disabilities.”


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

A Vocational Rehabilitation Success Story: Joseph Cali

Note: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Joseph

Joseph Cali

The New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS), which receives Federal funding from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services’ Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), is pleased to share Joseph’s success story in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).


Following an automobile accident in 2006 resulting in paralysis, Joseph spent several months in physical therapy and rehabilitation and now uses a motorized wheelchair. Joseph went on to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling in 2014—both from Rutgers University. Joseph also acquired specialized certificates in physical rehabilitation, supervision, and management.

When Joseph connected with the Vocational Rehabilitation program at DVRS, he was working part-time as an Adjunct Professor at Brookdale Community College. Joseph sought assistance from DVRS with modifying his van to independently travel to work and obtaining full-time employment. With the support of DVRS, Joseph took part in a pre-driver and behind-the-wheel driving evaluation to assess his driving needs. DVRS also supported the funding of modifications to Joseph’s van along with the necessary driving instruction.

On the employment front, DVRS certified Joseph as eligible for the Schedule A hiring authority with the federal government. After attending a federal job fair, Joseph interviewed with the Social Security Administration, who hired Joseph as a Claims Adjuster in Neptune, N.J. Joseph now works full-time and reports being satisfied with his career path and the services he received from DVRS. A special congratulations to Joseph who recently shared that he is engaged and will be getting married soon!

For more information about DVRS, please visit New Jersey’s Career Connections.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Chris Pope
Posted by
WIOA Implementation Team Facilitator Rehabilitation Services Administration U.S. Department of Education

Helping Youth Meet Their PROMISE

PROMISE: Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income

What is PROMISE?

Promoting the Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE) is a five-year research project that advances employment and postsecondary education outcomes for 14–16 year old youth who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). PROMISE began October 1, 2013 and will continue until September 30, 2018. The program is an interagency collaboration of the U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Social Security Administration. Under this competitive grant program, state agencies have partnered to develop and implement model demonstration projects (MDPs) that provide coordinated services and supports designed to improve the education and career outcomes of children with disabilities receiving SSI, including services and supports to their families.

2017 represents the fourth year of the projects (the first year was primarily dedicated to recruitment and enrollment). Thanks to the ongoing efforts to support families and youth, we look forward to hearing about bright future outcomes for the thousands of youth and families being served by PROMISE.

Further information is available at the PROMISE TA Center:

PROMISE TA Center logo

 

PROMISE Success Stories

Model Demonstration Project Success Stories

The PROMISE MDPs were created to facilitate a positive impact on long-term employment and educational outcomes by reducing reliance on SSI, providing better outcomes for adults, and improved service delivery by states for youth and families receiving SSI. The six MDPs are comprised of 11 states:

Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), projects are coordinating with vocational rehabilitation agencies so that youth are receiving pre-employment transition services, to include paid employment. By April 30, 2016, the MDPs recruited a total of 13,444 youth and their families with half of them receiving intervention services targeted around improving outcomes in employment and postsecondary education.

Personal PROMISE Success Stories

Cody—a Youth with Promise

Wisconsin PROMISE

Cody is excelling as a student at Burlington High School and employee at McDonalds. He plays video games, rides bike, and is learning to drive and weld. His goal is to be a welder after college. Cody was born with a brain tumor and has just one hand, but that’s not stopping him.

He’s a youth with Promise, on a journey to achieve his personal, educational, and career goals.

Watch Cody’s story on YouTube.

Xavi’s Story: Youth with Promise

Wisconsin PROMISE

She’s like most #teenagers… she hangs with her cats, dances with her friends, and loves Criminal Minds. She’s also going to have a lung removed. She’s a youth with Wisconsin Promise, on a journey to achieve her personal, educational, and career goals. Xavi shares her dreams, challenges, and the steps she’s taking with Wisconsin Promise to plan for her future.

Watch Xavi’s story on YouTube.

Dorian Shavis—A Firm Foundation

Arkansas PROMISE

As someone who expressed an interest in architecture, one of the Arkansas PROMISE youth participants expressed his desire to work at an architectural firm. Working with the local workforce board, Arkansas PROMISE staff set up an interview with a local architectural firm and secured an internship that resulted in the PROMISE youth and the firm staff learning from one another.

Watch Dorian’s story on YouTube.

More PROMISE Success Stories

You can find many more PROMISE success stories at:


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

A Vocational Rehabilitation Success Story

Note: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

George "Burt" Petley (left) with co-worker

George “Burt” Petley (left) with co-worker

In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (GVRA), a State VR agency which receives funding from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services’ Rehabilitation Services Administration, is pleased to share Burt’s success story.


Vocational Rehabilitation Success Story: George “Burt” Petley

Burt began his path to employment in a sheltered workshop in 2007, where he did packaging and sorting tasks. Burt’s fellow participants and supervisors said he was dependable and with the support of his sister, Christie, Burt had reliable transportation. While Burt sometimes had difficulty with decision-making, repetitive tasks were an area where he excelled.

In March of 2017, Burt and Christie attended a group meeting at the sheltered workshop with GVRA staff, who presented on Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services. Sherry Harris, from GVRA’s Augusta office, and Janice Cassidy, from the Athens office, explained supported employment and job coaching can be conduits toward competitive integrated employment and greater personal independence. Sherry and Janice explained that, in an inclusive workplace, individuals with disabilities would have the opportunity to earn the same wages as their coworkers and would not necessarily have to sacrifice services they may receive through a Medicaid waiver. Burt also learned about GVRA’s Work Incentive Navigators, who help individuals determine how going to work impacts disability benefits.

George "Burt" Petley

George “Burt” Petley

After hearing about the big picture and the spectrum of VR services available, Burt left the sheltered workshop program where he had spent the past ten years. He applied for VR services in June of 2017, first enrolling in a program where he learned socialization and independent living skills and took classes like American Sign Language, pottery, cooking, woodworking, healthy living, social skills and employability. That experience not only proved to be a valuable training opportunity for Burt, but it also led to a job offer when he was hired as a Woodworking Associate. Burt now works 13.5 hours/week earning minimum wage refurbishing furniture and looks forward to working more than 20 hours/week by the end of the year.

According to Burt’s family, he is content as a woodworker. Janice Cassidy shared that “Working with Burt has been a collaborative effort, but in reality, he is truly the star of this story. It began with his simple desire to do something other than continue to work at a sheltered workshop where he had worked for 10 years. Yes, he was certainly given information, told of resources and received supportive services from those helping him. Ultimately though, the person who took the necessary steps to move forward toward achieving his work goal was Burt. He exemplifies GVRA’s definition of true success. He made independent choices for his life, gathered necessary information, sought out potential resources and acted on choices made to realize the goal he was working toward. We wish Burt continued success in his work.”

For more information about the VR program in Georgia, please visit GVRA’s website.


Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.

Chris Pope
Posted by
WIOA Implementation Team Facilitator Rehabilitation Services Administration U.S. Department of Education

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Blog from OSERS’ Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Commissioner Janet LaBreck.


In recognition of National Disability Employment Month, I would like to share some exciting new opportunities for the vocational rehabilitation (VR) program, which is authorized by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 under Title IV of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). As you know, WIOA was signed into law by President Obama on July 22, 2014 and is designed to strengthen and improve our nation’s public workforce system and help Americans with significant barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities, obtain high quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers. The changes to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 under Title IV of WIOA had a profound impact on individuals with disabilities, especially those with significant disabilities and students and youth with disabilities transitioning from education to employment. These provisions strengthen opportunities for individuals with disabilities to acquire the skills and supports necessary to maximize their potential and enter competitive integrated employment. The final implementing regulations for the VR program adhere to three key goals:

  1. Align the VR program with the workforce development system;
  2. Strengthen VR’s focus on competitive integrated employment; and
  3. Expand VR services to students and youth with disabilities.

While these are many new opportunities and innovations under WIOA, I would like to share just a few that I believe will have a positive impact on employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities:

Strengthened emphasis on competitive integrated employment (CIE):

 

  1. The definition of “competitive integrated employment” in the implementing regulations has three major components related to competitive earnings, integrated locations, and opportunities for advancement.

Emphasis on transition services, including pre-employment transition services:

 

  1. WIOA expands the population of students with disabilities who may receive services and the kinds of services that the VR agencies may provide to youth and students with disabilities who are transitioning from school to postsecondary education and employment.
  2. WIOA emphasizes the provision of services to students and youth with disabilities to ensure they have opportunities to receive the training and other services necessary to achieve competitive integrated employment.
  3. WIOA increases opportunities to practice and improve workplace skills, such as through internships and other work-based learning opportunities.

Emphasis on employer engagement:

 

  1. RSA has begun the process of working with employers through a series of Round Table discussions that were held in FY 2016. These focused on the following sectors:
    • Federal contracting,
    • healthcare,
    • banking, and
    • information technology sectors.
  2. RSA will continue to work with state agencies to increase employer engagement.
  3. RSA encourages State VR agencies to meet employer needs by focusing on working with human resource firms and organizations that focus on diversity and talent acquisition.

Collaborative opportunities to work with partners across the workforce development system:

 

  1. WIOA promotes program alignment at the Federal, State, local, and regional levels; establishes common performance measures across core programs; encourages common data systems across core programs; builds on proven practices such as sector strategies, career pathways, regional economic approaches, work-based training; strengthens alignment between adult education, postsecondary education, and employers; strengthens transition services and supports for students and youth with disabilities; and emphasizes the achievement of competitive integrated employment by individuals with disabilities.
  2. Federal Partners—RSA is working with various partners at the Federal level, including the other WIOA core partners (Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services), and other Federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  3. State agencies are collaborating and partnering with a variety of organizations to bring about improvements, including state and local workforce development partners, disability specific training and education programs (e.g. Gallaudet University, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and the Florida State University’s Visual Disabilities Program, research and training programs (e.g. the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University, innovative work based learning programs (e.g. Café Reconcile, Student Transition to Employment Project), and many other partners.

RSA’s new focus on technical assistance and demonstration projects:

 

  1. To provide leadership and resources to grantees and stakeholders, RSA created a series of training and technical assistance centers (TACs) and demonstration projects to assist state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and their partners in providing VR and other services to individuals with disabilities.
  2. Focus on Career Pathways—In FY 2015, RSA awarded a grant to focus on 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.
  3. Identifying new models and looking forward—Automated Personalization Computing Project (APCP)—The purpose of the APCP is to improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities by increasing access to information and communication technologies (ICT) through automatic personalization of needed assistive technology (AT). Under the APCP, an information technology (IT) infrastructure would be created to allow users of ICT to store preferences in the cloud or other technology, which then would allow supported Internet–capable devices they are using to automatically run their preferred AT solutions. This IT infrastructure will ultimately provide better educational opportunities, ease transitions between school and the workforce, and improve productivity in the workplace.

I am confident that these innovations and opportunities will result in improved employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. I look forward to seeing what other innovations are yet to come, and invite you to look ahead with me.

Call to Action: Make Disability Visible in Everything We Do

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.[1] (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 inclusion@ed.gov.  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.


[1] Educational attainment data are presented for those age 25 and over.

5 Things You Should Know about WIOA

This is a repost of a Blog on ED’s Homeroom.


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.

Here’s what WIOA means and why it matters.


The WIOA final rules, along with accompanying resources, are available at the following links:

Janet Terry: A Workforce Development Success Story

Janet Terry

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!  The U.S. departments of Education (ED) and Labor (DOL), in partnership with Health and Human Services (HHS), have recently announced that the final rules of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) are now 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.

5 Million Reasons to Care About Youth Not in Education or Jobs

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.[1]

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).[2] 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.[3]

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.


[1] See the OECD report on NEET youth at https://data.oecd.org/youthinac/youth-not-in-education-or-employment-neet.htm.

[2] 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.

[3] (OECD, 2013). Time for the U.S. to Reskill? What the Survey of Adult Skills Says.