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LEAD On! Quarterly Newsletter - September 2020

LEAD On! Quarterly Newsletter - September 2020 Newsletter

September 30, 2020

“A vigorous economic rebound and job growth will, alongside the Americans with Disabilities Act, increase access and opportunity for Americans with disabilities.” – U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia

This year marks the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which is observed each October to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the skills and talents of workers with disabilities. As the economy and the country adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, the official theme of NDEAM, “Increasing Access and Opportunity,” is crucial to building a flexible and diverse workforce that will drive an economic rebound for all Americans.

The U.S Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) offers a range of resources to help employers and other organizations such as educators and youth service professionals, state governors, legislators, and other policymakers recognize NDEAM. As organizations plan events to acknowledge NDEAM, ODEP resources, including an official poster, as well as sample articles, a press release, a proclamation, and social media content may offer inspiration.

The forerunner of NDEAM dates back to 1945, when Congress dedicated the first week in October to its observance. The week was expanded to a month by Congress in 1988 and its name changed to National Disability Employment Awareness Month. When ODEP was created in 2001, it was given responsibility for NDEAM, including the selection of its annual theme.

The theme of “Increasing Access and Opportunity” must continue beyond October. ODEP is sharing Ten Ways to Foster the NDEAM Spirit Year-Round that employers can use to promote a disability-friendly workplace throughout the year and keep the momentum going.

Increasing Access and Opportunity - Celebrating 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act - #ADA30, #NDEAM75,

The LEAD Center, funded by ODEP, fulfills a critical role of promoting policy development and capacity building for the workforce development system. Also known as the WIOA Policy Development Center, it targets strategic areas of national need (SANNs) necessary to increase employment outcomes and economic advancement for people with disabilities. The SANNs include: (1) Section 188/Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity; (2) inclusive career pathways; and (3) data collection and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) performance reporting. Work in these strategic areas during the coming year will promote transformative change for the workforce system and employment and economic advancement  for individuals using it.

As the WIOA Policy Development Center comes to the end of its first year, and in keeping with the spirit of WIOA, the various activities underway have benefitted from partnerships with multiple federal divisions or agencies. Several current efforts, and their key partnerships, are described below.

Virginia Equal Opportunity Pilot

LEAD Center staff are conducting a statewide pilot in Virginia that provides equal opportunity-related technical assistance and training for workforce staff and partners across all core WIOA partners, including Title 1— Adult, Dislocated Worker, and Youth; Title II—Adult Education and Family Leave Act grant recipients; Title III—Employment Services; and Title IV—Vocational Rehabilitation. The LEAD Center is partnering with DOL’s Civil Rights Center in the development of these trainings.

Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) Apprenticeship

LEAD Center staff are providing a three-part training for employment specialists/vocational rehabilitation counselors who work with Veterans with disabilities enrolled in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) VR&E program, which will cover: (1) an overview of Registered Apprenticeship; (2) how to connect partners to regional apprenticeship ecosystems; and (3) how to integrate apprenticeship into pre-existing training and counseling services. The training will be piloted at five VR&E offices across the country. The LEAD Center is collaborating with DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, Office of Apprenticeship, ODEP, and VA’s VR&E. The ultimate goal of the training is to increase the number of Veterans with disabilities in apprenticeship programs.

WIOA Performance Reporting

ODEP supports the Data and Resources to Inspire a Vision of Employment (DRIVE) website, where state government leaders, policy-makers, disability advocates, and other stakeholders can learn about what is working in disability employment. The LEAD team developed an online data visualization tool where one is able to discover state and local data on all disability-related data elements. The LEAD Center works in partnership with DOL's Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and ODEP to encourage the use of quality data to drive system improvements for people with disabilities.

Map of United States on a color spectrum of purple, 2.1%, to yellow, 18.2%, representing State-level Disability. Yellow shading indicates higher rates of reporting and purple shading indicates lower rates of reporting. Overall, 5.2% of WIOA/WP/JVSG participants disclosed having a disability

Financial Toolkit

Financial resiliency underpins the mission of the workforce system, and yet many people with disabilities live below the poverty line. This project focuses on financial tools and resources across the work lifecycle when people with disabilities are: (1) preparing for a job; (2) starting a job; (3) maintaining a job; and (4) losing a job, changing a job, or retiring. The LEAD Center is working with DOL's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), ETA, and ODEP on an online financial toolkit, scheduled to be available to the public by the end of 2020. The toolkit will be hosted on the EBSA website.

Those interested in learning more about these efforts, or wishing to inquire about collaboration with the LEAD Center, may contact

Registered Apprenticeship (RA) can be an excellent training and career pathway for Veterans with disabilities. RA is a proven model of job preparation that combines paid on-the-job training with related instruction to progressively increase workers’ skill levels and wages. Today, there are tens of thousands of RA programs nationally in sectors such as information technology, healthcare, advanced manufacturing, hospitality, and logistics.

As an “earn and learn model,” apprentices receive wages from day one and gain pay raises along the way as their skill levels increase. Upon completion, the average annual wage for someone completing a Registered Apprenticeship is $70,000, versus $51,000 for a college graduate, and $38,000 for someone with a high school diploma.[1] In addition, Registered Apprenticeship can be a particularly good match for Veterans due to the similarities in expectations, on-site mentorship, and a team-based work environment that mirrors military training.

To support the transition of more Veterans with service-connected disabilities into RA, the LEAD Center will pilot a new set of trainings and resources for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) counselors and employment coordinators, as well as their regional Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG) colleagues. The trainings will be piloted this fall at five VR&E Regional Offices and will focus on:

  • Educating VR&E counselors and employment coordinators as well as Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program specialists (DVOPs), and Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVERs) on the apprenticeship model and the benefits and opportunities for Veterans and Service Members with service-connected disabilities.
  • Encouraging and facilitating partnerships between VR&E, JVSG, and regional workforce and apprenticeship partners.
  • Training for VR&E Counselors, Employment Coordinators, DVOPs, and LVERs on how to enroll VR&E participants in RA programs.

The pilot trainings will be held virtually with live trainers over an interactive webinar platform to allow for feedback and questions. At the end of the five pilot presentations, based on feedback received, a final version of the live trainings will be recorded and a companion desk reference will be developed which will include information from the recording, as well as any supporting documents that are needed. The trainings will be made available to VR&E Regional Offices nationwide.

This project is a collaboration among several federal partners including the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, Office of Disability Employment Policy, and Office of Apprenticeship, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Veteran Readiness and Employment.

For more information about Registered Apprenticeship, visit the Apprenticeship Portal at, and stay tuned for apprenticeship-related webinars for the general public this fall.

Handshake, Text: Apprenticeships

[1] U.S. Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.

Together, we must remove the physical barriers we have created and the social barriers that we have accepted. For ours will never be a truly prosperous nation until all within it prosper. – President George H.W. Bush

Thirty years ago, George H.W. Bush declared these motivating words as he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, which provided the path to civil rights protections for people with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, government services, and telecommunications. The struggle to bring the ADA into reality was years long, and its passage laid the groundwork for more inclusive American workplaces and communities.

Indeed, much progress has been made since the ADA’s signing to support employment and, in turn, economic advancement of people with disabilities in America. To highlight just a few:

  • In the 1999 landmark Olmstead v. L.C. decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is discriminatory to segregate people with disabilities in employment and community living settings when integrated, community-based settings are available.
  • In 2001, Congress established the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), creating a permanent entity to focus on disability within the context of federal labor policy.
  • The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program was created to support employers who have invested in diversifying their workforce. 
  • Two updates to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act were implemented to ensure greater accessibility in the ever-expanding virtual world as well as the physical. 
  • In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) clarified “disability” as an inclusive term, making it easier for a person seeking protection under the law to establish eligibility.
  • The following year DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics began publishing data on the employment status of people with disabilities, ensuring baseline data is available to measure the progress and impact of disability- and inclusivity-focused efforts.
  • Twice, Congress updated the nation’s workforce development system, most recently in 2014 with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which made sweeping changes. Notably, WIOA infused disability employment into a general workforce development law—thereby recognizing that people with disabilities should have access to the same programs and services as everyone else. Through nondiscrimination and equal opportunity requirements, WIOA also affirmed that all people should be able to access and benefit from these services.
  • In recognition that economic advancement is an essential part of the ADA, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 created tax-advantaged savings accounts for certain individuals with disabilities and their families.
  • In 2019, DOL's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs began publishing focused reviews of federal contractors’ compliance with Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, which compels contractors to take proactive steps to recruit, hire, promote, and retain people with disabilities.

This list of strides is by no means exhaustive, but it clearly illustrates a positive trajectory. It points toward a more inclusive society, one in which competitive, integrated employment is the norm, and where everyone can contribute their talents and skills toward a rewarding career.

That said, work remains. The ADA calls on us to ensure that everyone is afforded a clear path to economic self-sufficiency and financial stability through employment. Yet, people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed, have difficulty finding work that offers a living wage, and experience poverty and homelessness.

To address these gaps, ODEP’s LEAD Center promotes equal opportunity and access within the greater workforce system governed by WIOA. For example:

  • Our Inclusive Career Pathways Roadmap enables workforce professionals to access resources that will help people with disabilities achieve employment and economic self-sufficiency.
  • Our DRIVE website allows users to conduct state comparisons and analyses to help guide policy development.
  • Our interactive data visualization tool helps states and local areas investigate the status of their WIOA disability-related reporting, and we are creating accompanying tools to help American Job Centers more effectively connect with and serve people with disabilities.

Also under development is:

  • A robust financial toolkit that will offer crucial resources for anyone navigating a complex economic landscape, whether planning for, getting, keeping, advancing, or recovering from the loss of a job.
  • Modular training for case managers so that they can connect Veterans to inclusive apprenticeship opportunities.
  • Statewide equal opportunity and programmatic accessibility training and technical assistance for workforce personnel in Virginia. 

The work that we are conducting today is made possible by the groundwork laid in the last century, and the efforts undertaken in the last 30 years. The ADA was an early milestone on a continuing path—one that ends with economic security and full inclusion in our workplaces and community spaces. Doing this work together will enable all of us the opportunity to contribute to our collective success and advancement as a nation.

George H.W. Bush signing the ADA

In June, the LEAD Center held a two-part webinar series that focused on two strategies to help Veterans who experience barriers to employment: Guided Group Discovery (GGD) and Customized Employment (CE). Many Veterans are unsure about their path to civilian employment and seek guidance on how to proceed. Guided Group Discovery is a set of strategies that can benefit any job seeker, especially people who face barriers to employment, in identifying possible jobs and career paths. Customized Employment is a strategy for helping people who have not been successful with traditional job search approaches (e.g., identifying open positions, filling out applications, and interviewing) obtain employment. While traditional job search approaches work well for some, often people experiencing barriers to employment do not compete well and can become frustrated.

Guided Group Discovery: Paving a Road to Employment

On June 17, the LEAD Center presented this webinar to the National Veterans Technical Assistance Center grantees to help them learn the rationales for using Guided Group Discovery, explore GGD strategies that can benefit Veterans during their job search, identify ways to guide Veterans in determining how their military training, discipline, and mission focus can benefit an employer, and identify helpful resources to support Veterans transitioning into civilian employment such as the Guided Group Discovery - Veterans Edition Facilitator Guide.

LEAD Center Guided Group Discovery -- Veterans Edition Facilitator Guide

Customizing Employment: Strategies for Employment Success

The first step in CE is Discovery. Building off of the June 17th webinar on Guided Group Discovery, the LEAD Center presented an additional webinar to the National Veterans Technical Assistance Center grantees on June 24 to help them gain an understanding of the Customized Employment process. This included learning about the benefits of CE to employers, exploring approaches to CE that can assist Veterans seeking employment in achieving an employment outcome, and providing access to resources on CE.

On June 29, the LEAD Center provided National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) Conference attendees with tools and strategies related to performance reporting requirements under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), with a focus on promoting positive outcomes for people with disabilities. The session reviewed relevant performance data elements and strategies for Workforce Boards to ensure data are collected accurately and appropriately. The session also provided an overview of DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy’s (ODEP) useful resource, the Data and Resources to Inspire a Vision of Employment (DRIVE) website. In 2016, WIOA established primary indicators of performance, which all core WIOA programs are required to report using the Participant Individual Record Layout (PIRL). PIRL requirements specifically include reporting outcomes on individuals with disabilities; however, to date no specific guidance has been released on reporting elements for individuals with disabilities.

Veterans want to ensure that their career after military life is a good fit that provides them with a sense of purpose. This interactive session by LEAD Center staff, on August 13 at the virtual 2020 National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) Veterans Conference, provided participants with: (1) tools specifically developed to assist in the “discovery” process, which is especially useful for war-wounded Veterans seeking employment or apprenticeships, and (2) tools to assist Veterans in envisioning how their military training, discipline, and mission-focus can benefit an employer and how to make that connection. The session was presented by Rebecca Salon, Co-Project Director, LEAD/WIOA Policy Development Center; Nancy Boutot, Financial Empowerment Manager, National Disability Institute; and Rose Warner, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor.

Veteran shaking hands with a civilian

Medicaid Buy-In (MBI), also known as Medicaid for Workers with Disabilities, breaks down barriers to employment for people with disabilities. MBI gives states the authority to remove barriers to employment and community living for workers with disabilities who earn income which exceeds Medicaid limits. It also provides the potential for individuals to no longer choose between healthcare and work. Most states offer MBI for at least one “buy-in” eligibility group. This LEAD Center July 16 webinar provided information about what is happening across states related to MBI and how it is supporting employment and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. Attendees heard from national expert Annette Shea, in addition to a consumer benefitting from MBI, and an employment services provider that helps people access MBI.

Access to quality data makes good policy possible and workforce services accessible for everyone. The Workforce Data Quality Initiative and the LEAD Center webinars on September 17 and 24 showcased leading practices in Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) disability-related reporting. The two-part webinar series featured Wisconsin’s workforce system practices, including how effective reporting and analysis can enhance services and help mitigate job losses for individuals with disabilities. Both sessions explored existing reporting on individuals with disabilities through a new online interactive data visualization tool and how to improve disability-related reporting.

Part 1: Understanding WIOA Disability-Related Reporting: Tools for Data Visualization

September 17

Part 2: WIOA Disability-Related Reporting: A Deep Dive into the Participant Individual Record Layout (PIRL)

The content of this webinar was tailored to local and state workforce staff in charge of reporting, training, and case management systems.

September 24

Magnifying glass over charts and graphs

Please note: The PDF generated using this link is not 508-compliant and is provided as a courtesy for those who wish to print the material. For a fully accessible version of this newsletter, please read the web-based version.