Paraquad Embraces New Solutions to Improve Employment Outcomes for People with Disabilities

Aimee Wehmeier, President and CEO, Paraquad

By Guest Blogger Aimee Wehmeier, President and CEO, Paraquad

As we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Paraquad joins with many other organizations in recognizing the ongoing, uphill battle to achieve parity in the workplace. In fact, and alarmingly, since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities have improved little, if at all.

There are many reasons for this lack of progress. Employers are reluctant to hire people with disabilities out of unfounded fears of lack of productivity and of high costs for accommodations and liability insurance. Youth with disabilities may not be prepared to enter the workforce and individuals who acquire disabilities may not have the support to start new careers. Of course, many people also face the difficult challenge of balancing their interest in working with the need to maintain income eligibility for benefits.

These challenges have been around for a long time. So what are some new solutions that Paraquad is utilizing to improve outcomes?

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From Litigation to Leadership: How a Lawsuit Catalyzed Tennessee’s Transformation to Pacesetting the Employment First Movement

Jeremy Norden-Paul, State Director of Employment and Day Services, Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

By Guest Blogger Jeremy Norden-Paul, State Director of Employment and Day Services, Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD)

From iconic Nashville venues like the Grand Ole Opry to small businesses in rural counties, employers across Tennessee have discovered first-hand the many benefits of hiring people with disabilities. This is no small feat, and Tennessee is proud to now be a leader in the Employment First movement. However, what people might not know is our state has experienced pretty significant changes in recent years, and much of what we have accomplished is rooted in where we started.

In 1923 our state opened the Tennessee Home and Training School for Feeble-Minded Persons, which later became the Clover Bottom Developmental Center. At the peak of its operation, Clover Bottom housed more than 1,500 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and was one of four state-run institutions across Tennessee. Looking back, it can be difficult to fathom why an institution would ever be considered an acceptable living situation for someone with a disability. After all, we know institutions are isolated, segregated, and fundamentally limit the opportunity for people to experience employment or community life. But institutions actually played an important role in that era; there were no other support models for people with disabilities at the time, and typically the only alternatives were living at home with family (which had its own barriers) or becoming homeless. Tennessee was not alone in this practice either; by the 1960s there were nearly 200,000 people with disabilities living in state-run institutions across the country.

Very fortunately, over the years we realized there are much better options for people with disabilities. During the 1980s there was a strong push for a new community model, which supported people with disabilities in traditional house settings and provided more opportunities to engage in community life. With the emergence of this model, the number of people living in Tennessee institutions declined dramatically. However, it was not until the 1990s that the movement to close our institutions reached a fever pitch.

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The Iowa Reverse Job Fair Effort

A reverse job fair participant stands in front of a poster board outlinig his professional work.

By Guest Bloggers David Mitchell, Administrator, Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Michelle Krefft, Resource Manager for Business Services, Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services and Chair, Employer’s Disability Resource Network

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act provides a chance for state systems to think differently regarding service delivery to individuals with disabilities that results in employment.  In Iowa, this has provided chances for various employment systems to come together with new energy, purpose and innovation as we work to align processes, increase capacity and move the employment dial forward for individuals with disabilities. An example of this type of collaboration is the reverse job fair concept. Iowa has developed a collaborative group of partners – the Employer’s Disability Resource Network, who have worked together to host the reverse job fairs.

The reverse job fair takes the typical business career fair, where job candidates travel from booth to booth – and reverses the action. In the reverse job fair, job candidates host their own booths, preparing their marketing materials to brand their skills, abilities and interests in entertaining and informative ways. This allows them to present themselves in a manner that showcases their work contributions and provides a new method of communicating with businesses that fits the comfort level of the job seeker. As business hiring authorities travel from booth to booth, the candidates present themselves highlighting their specific business contributions. Job candidates prepare in advance practicing their 30-second elevator speeches and preparing poster boards, models, or video and picture demonstrations, as creative displays of work skills that might meet a business need.

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Spotlight On: Cancer and Careers

Cancer and Careers

By Guest Blogger Sarah Goodell, Manager of Programs, Cancer and Careers

One of the things that we hear all too frequently at Cancer and Careers is “I wish I’d known that your organization existed sooner”, and we are working to change this every day. 1.66 million new cancer cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. As of 2014, there are more than 14.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. As the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. continues to grow, there is an increasing need for resources and support to help them get back to everyday life and work after diagnosis and treatment. Cancer and Careers was born 15 years ago to address this need. Our mission is to empower and educate people with cancer to thrive in their workplace, by providing expert advice, interactive tools and educational events.

We do this in a number of ways, including:

  • A comprehensive website in English and Spanish
  • Publications in English and Spanish
  • Job Search Tools and Resume Review Service
  • Professional Development Micro-Grants
  • Accredited Programs for Healthcare Professionals
  • Community Events
  • National and Regional Conferences
  • Balancing Work & Cancer Webinars

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Why We Need Stronger Public Efforts to Prevent Work Disability

The logo for the Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work Policy Collaborative - S@W/R2W

By Guest Bloggers Jennifer Christian MD, President, Webility Corporation, and Yonatan Ben-Shalom, PhD, Senior Researcher, Mathematica Policy Research

Despite a difficult childhood, Pete had made a good life for himself. He had a wife, two sons, and a landscaping job for a school in a Sun Belt state. Then an accident left him with severe back pain. His employer didn’t want him back until he was “100 percent.”  Spine fusion surgery did not help. Pete lost his job. He believed his neurosurgeon’s unfortunate advice: “Don’t even bother looking for another job.”

The only thing Pete’s doctors did offer was opioid pain relievers. His new life was spent in a recliner, taking pills. Pete grieved the loss of his ability to be a good husband, father, and provider. He didn’t know what else was possible or where to turn.

Pete’s life didn’t need to turn out that way but, sadly, his story is not unusual. Millions of workers lose their jobs each year due to injury or illness. Understandably, most hard-working Americans don’t know the best way to respond when life is turned upside down because they can’t work. Some, like Pete, get both inadequate care and bad advice. Many who might continue to work end up leaving the workforce forever because practical help is not available at a critical time.

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