In 2017, local Equal Opportunity Officers (EOOs) with Missouri’s Division of Workforce Development were charged with collecting results from a new workforce staff assessment on the impact of statewide Section 188 training. The virtual training series focused on disability under Section 188’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity provisions in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Section 188 prohibits discrimination against individuals who apply to, participate in, work for, or come into contact with programs and activities that receive financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), including partners of the American Job Centers (AJC) system. The training emphasized best practices that promote equal access for individuals with disabilities from the U.S. DOL’s Promising Practices in Achieving Universal Access and Equal Opportunity: A Section 188 Disability Reference Guide. The Guide was developed jointly by DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy’s (ODEP), Employment and Training Administration (ETA), Civil Rights Center (CRC), and LEAD Center.
In order to apply learnings from the Section 188 training, workforce professionals and partners were tasked with a series of ‘Action Items’ to help build their capacity in serving individuals with disabilities. Local EOOs across Missouri’s workforce regions collected the results of the ‘Action Items,’ which included outreach to disability organizations to identify cross collaboration opportunities; the effectiveness of the AJC’s reasonable accommodation procedures; and information about key local, state, and national resources in disability that can be applied within the workforce system. The combination of Section 188 training with hands-on activities generated widespread interest and incentives for MO workforce staff to become more proactive with disability partners and resources while implementing universal access approaches. The overall key findings listed below are currently helping state level EOO and Vocational Rehabilitation staff to better determine more targeted technical assistance and support needs in the MO workforce system around disability.
- Strengthened New & Existing Partnerships: The Action Items not only motivated workforce centers to connect with new and existing community partners in the region, but incited new important discussions. Most workforce centers reported that they either visited partner sites or invited partners into the job center for more in-depth discussions around services, processes for obtaining services, and how they can work together to better serve the community.
- Increased Cross-Partner Training: As a result of increased outreach to new and diverse partners, staff reported a greater awareness and understanding of different types of disabilities and resources that exist. For example, workforce centers ventured into new partnerships with organizations that serve individuals with autism, connected with National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Chapters that focuses on mental health, and collaborated with regional Business Leadership Networks.
- Increased Training on Reasonable Accommodations: Many workforce regions reported that they provide accommodations. However, most only listed adaptive equipment as the accommodations provided. A broader understanding of reasonable accommodations is likely needed, especially for people with non-visible disabilities. This might include providing more time to complete assessments, offering private space to discuss disability, or assisting a customer with an application or another job center task.