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Building Credit and Community: A Look Inside Louisville’s LABS Pilot Program

By Kyle Durbin on April 26, 2018

Since 2014, LADDER (Louisville Alliance for Development through Diversity Empowerment and Resources) supports opportunities to integrate financial empowerment in workforce development systems to insure the inclusivity of persons with disabilities in accessing empowerment opportunties, and seeks to establish a community-wide culture of inclusiveness.

Data makes it abundantly clear that individuals with disabilities face significantly more barriers than other members of the population when it comes to financial stability and equality. In fact, households with members with a disability are twice as likely as households without a disability to have incomes below the federal poverty line (2016 American Community Survey). Furthermore, individuals with disabilities are also twice as likely to be unemployed compared to their able-bodied counterparts in the same demographic range (2016 American Community Survey). The lack of employment prospects and low wages that have become the norm for those living with disabilities makes every day financial challenges an incredibly difficult task. With lower incomes and lower employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, millions of Americans with disabilities are stuck in a cycle of poverty.

The 2018 Scorecard released by Prosperity Now reports some stunning state-level data: 26.7 percent of all Kentucky households with a member with a disability live below the federal poverty threshold; and 52.8 percent of all Kentucky households with adults with disabilities live in liquid asset poverty, meaning that more than half of households with adults with disabilities do not have enough money to weather a significant emergency.  These statistics clearly identify a need. In effort to address these challenges, LADDER developed and launched a pilot program to address the asset building challenges associated with Louisville residents with disabilities.

In 2016, LADDER, through Louisville Metro Office of Resilience and Community Services along with agency partners Goodwill Industries, Center for Accessible Living and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, implemented a pilot program, LABS (LADDER Asset Building Strategies), designed to increase the overall financial well-being of individuals with disabilities through small dollar loan and matched savings opportunities. Participants could borrow up to $500 with 0 percent interest through the small dollar loan opportunity, and matched savings participants could earn a 1:1 match for every dollar saved - up to $500. Through peer mentorship, and help from their case managers, participants were encouraged to establish consistent savings habits, build their credit, and attain short-term financial goals.

Participants had the chance to take part in one or both opportunities – the small dollar loan and/or the matched savings. In order to maximize the impact of LABS, several strategies (peer mentorship, case management, credit health education, financial coaching and access to financial planning software) were included in the program.  Peer mentorship and direct agency involvement provided oversight and support for LABS. Peer mentors encouraged participants to establish consistent savings habits, stay on track, make repayments on time, and motivated participants to focus on their short-term financial goals; case managers helped organize and support participants.

Overall, nine participants successfully made progress or completely achieved their short-term financial goal. Matched savings participants saved a total of $4,280.62 and, with the match incentives, total savings were $8,246.24. Nearly 67 percent of matched savings participants met or exceeded their savings goals. Loan borrowers increased their credit scores by an average of 280 points. Four out of five loan borrowers, or 80 percent, increased their personal credit scores.

These results represent more than dollars saved and points on a credit score. A report by Prosperity Now highlights the impact and influence asset-building opportunities, like LABS, can make on behavioral change with participants. According to the report, savings programs helped participants develop savings patterns that “increased [habit strength] over time during program participation and savings habits reduced the stress of financially difficult situations.”  These results represent concrete changes – actual savings to help weather the next emergency or plans for the future; and access to opportunities for more and affordable credit, etc.  Asset-building efforts like LABS truly create opportunities for financial security and financial equality and allow individuals to take control of their financial lives and futures.

Kyle Durbin HeadshotKyle Durbin is currently an Intern for the Office of Financial Empowerment at Louisville Metro Government’s Office of Resilience and Community Services in Louisville, KY.  The Office of Financial Empowerment focuses on the unique opportunities and challenges of low-income and economically vulnerable citizens. In this capacity he is responsible for executing a range of projects including data analysis, producing marketing materials and general staff support. Earlier in his career Durbin has worked as a Reporter Intern at Louisville’s NPR Affiliate WFPL, a Tax Payment processor at an IRS Lockbox and presently is the Co-owner and Operations Manager of a media marketing company XPLouisville. He holds two bachelor degrees from the University of Kentucky in International Studies and Gender and Women Studies. He enjoys long walks on the beach, his favorite color is clear and he likes the smell of water.

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My Dream Job: On the Importance of Networking

By Alec Frazier on March 29, 2018

Hello, I’m Alec Frazier. I’m autistic and have been a self-advocate and an advocate since I can remember, although definitely professionally since I gave my first speech in third grade in 1994. I am currently the Director of Autistic Reality, my own advocacy and consultancy firm. In this blog, I will discuss disability employment and the importance of networking.

Individuals with autism are often passed over for employment. In some cases, it is because we are not as socially adept as others. In other cases, it is because we may have unusual quirks which employers can find less desirable. As such, we can be completely capable of carrying out a job, but get turned down time and time again. Eighteen is seen as the age of majority, but I did not get my first paying job until at least 10 years later, and it was for an agency run by the disability community.

More frequently, my applications were turned down, or even ignored. For six years, while I was in university, I lived in a Rust Belt town and, at one point, submitted at least 150 applications in a row and received not one response. Over the years, I built up a very solid list of volunteer activities and other work. Some of my work, such as volunteer work for an independent living network, was actually more intense than some of the paid staff, and this was acknowledged by my superiors. However, they lacked the ability to pay me.

Finally, having obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in disability studies, I moved to the Washington, D.C. area to pursue a career and advocacy.

I was not disappointed. Three days after moving to our nation’s capital, in late 2016, I was invited to the White House for a business conference on disability in the media called Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0. At this conference, I met Jd Michaels, the Executive Vice President of BBDO Worldwide, an international advertising firm. Although I continued pursuing employment in other venues, Jd and I continued communicating regularly, sometimes emailing, sometimes talking by phone, and sometimes Skyping.

After a few months, Jd approached me with a job offer: he hired me as an editor for an anthology of writings by authors with disabilities. In addition, I told him that I had a number of writings that I wished to get published, and he agreed to help me with that at no cost to myself, and in such a way that I could receive all of the profits. These essays are varied in character, from pop-culture reviews to academic papers. In fact, this blog will go in my book, which is titled Veni! Vedi! Autism! It will be out in about a month.

Jd has been an amazing employer. He has provided me with all of the tools I need to succeed. I have writing disabilities, so he has provided me with Dragon NaturallySpeaking software so I can dictate my papers and even blog entries like this one. He has even provided me with camera batteries so that I may better publicize my experiences, hotels, meals, and travel so that I may attend conferences and even photo shoots to publicize our work.

I finally found a job that provides me with stability and everything I need to succeed. Want to know how many times I applied? The answer is zero. Networking got me this position. It is my firm opinion that at least 50 percent of gaining employment is networking.

 

Below are some of my best networking tips:

  • Do you know of a conference for people in your industry? Go! It might help to set aside a small budget to pay attendance fees, although a number of them are free.
  • Does someone you know someone in “the business”? Inquire about them and try to get that person’s business card.
  • Follow up regularly on business contacts and potential business contacts.
  • Consider getting your own business card. There are services that can provide you with a number of free formats to choose from, and you will only have to pay printing and shipping. There are also more expensive cards, which are more customizable.
  • Are you good at social networking? Consider creating a page for your business. Make sure it is a page, however, and not a group.
  • Find out more about LinkedIn and join it, and regularly update your profile! It can be helpful with almost all of the ancillary parts of seeking a job, including resume building, networking, and staying apprised of current situations in your industry.
  • Is there somebody you want to get to know? Someone you want to be aware of your work? Schedule a lunch date with them! People often have lunch hours free from work and would be glad to get to know you during that time.
  • Is there an agency that governs your industry? Follow it!
  • Do you have viewpoints that you wish to share with the public? Start a blog! Platforms like Blogger are more professional and less redundant.
  • Is there an association of people in your business? Join!
  • Think you’re ready for the next step? Start a website! Make sure to trademark a catchy, unforgettable URL!

There may be fees associated with conferences and memberships, but the benefit is by far above the loss of any money you may spend. Just remember to choose wisely.

Similarly, beware of scams. There are actually scams that promise to publicize your business and, before you know it, you will be out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Overall, go with sources, companies, and entities you know and trust. Never be afraid to ask others for their opinions or advice.

These are just some out of many tips about networking. Instead of focusing exclusively on resumes and applications, it is important that we train job seekers with disabilities to engage in proper networking. That will allow everyone to truly shine and maximize their potential.

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Double Duty: Hire a Veteran with a Disability

By Marlene Ulisky on November 09, 2017

As an employer, do you want to easily find valuable and talented employees to fill your job openings AND incentivize your workplace diversity? If inclusion and diversity is important to you and your workplace culture, look no further and hire a veteran with a disability.

In the past, when you received and reviewed resumes and applications, did you see military job titles such as “Multiple Launch Rocket System Crew Member” or “Electronic Intelligence Interceptor” or “Senior Non-commissioned Logistician?” Or did you read between the lines and look for more? Did you even set up an interview to learn more? Don’t let qualified veterans slip by.

The military engrains many skills which are transferable from military jobs to civilian jobs. Although some of the hard skills may be challenging to translate into jobs that aren’t specialized positions, many soft skills can easily translate into their civilian equivalents. Some identifiable skills include:

•    Evident interpersonal skills, leadership, punctuality, and discipline

•    Proven team player

•    Ability to perform under pressure

•    Demonstrated respect for procedures

•    Willingness to accept criticism and take direction

•    Attention to details

In addition to the skills and abilities veterans with disabilities bring to the workforce, there are federal tax credits available to employers who hire individuals from target groups. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is one of the federal tax credits available, but there are others on the Department of Labor's Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) website. Employers who hire multiple WOTC qualified employees can make a significant dent in their federal income tax liability while being rewarded with valuable and diverse employees.

You may wish to begin your search by collaborating with your local CareerOneStop Business Center, a partner of the American Job Center network, or use their Civilian-to-Military Occupation Translator to identify civilian occupations that match relevant military experience and similar skills. Another great resource for employers, managers, or human resource professionals is the Veterans Employment Toolkit from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Every employer will find benefits to hiring veterans with disabilities. Make a difference and make a positive impact today by hiring a disabled veteran and give back to those who have protected our nation.

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