RD167 - Assessment of Virginia’s Disability Services System: Employment

Executive Summary:
People with disabilities continue to face multiple barriers to employment, including employer beliefs, negative attitudes towards people with disabilities, a lack of post-secondary education and training opportunities, and fear of losing critical public benefits. These barriers are compounded in rural and underserved regions of the Commonwealth, where employment opportunities and access to employment supports are limited. Individuals with disabilities who have access to vocational rehabilitation services have better employment outcomes than those individuals with disabilities who do not have access to these services, and vocational rehabilitation services yield positive returns on investment for the Commonwealth.

Employment rates for people with disabilities have not appreciably improved in recent years (see Table 1 on page ii of the report). Although employment rates have slowly increased since 2011, as the state recovered from a recession, the rates are still lower than their pre-recession levels and only about one in three people with disabilities were employed in 2015. The gap in employment rates between people with and without disabilities has not improved in recent years and is higher than pre-recession levels. People with disabilities are less than half as likely to be employed as people without disabilities.

Many people with disabilities are working in segregated sheltered settings. Only 10 to 26 percent of people receiving state disability services, depending on the data source, have obtained a paid job in an integrated setting (see Table 1 on page ii of the report). Historically, sheltered workshops (segregated employment) and subminimum wage employment were considered positive outcomes for people with disabilities. As beliefs and expectations about the capacity of people with significant disabilities to work in competitive, integrated settings change, so too are standards of what constitutes a successful employment outcome. A shift in the focus of state programs towards a greater emphasis on integrated employment is underway, which will hopefully improve outcomes in the coming years.

The Virginia Board for People with Disabilities offers 21 recommendations to improve the employment prospects of people with disabilities in Virginia and ensure that people with disabilities are an integral part of Virginia’s economy. The recommendations are grouped into seven main approaches:

1. Update Virginia’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Combined State Plan to better address individuals with disabilities in the Commonwealth.

a. Expand the analysis of employment data related to people with disabilities within the Economic and Workforce Analysis section of the Plan;

b. Include disability-specific goals and strategies in the Vision and Goals section of the Plan;

c. Include specific steps to ensure that programs and facilities are physically and programmatically accessible to people with disabilities, as required by Section 188 of WIOA.

2. Improve access to accurate and disability-friendly information about work incentives programs, the effects of employment on eligibility for benefits, and available tools to minimize the impact of employment on benefits.

a. In partnership with existing experts, ensure that school transition specialists have access to training and information on work incentives programs and effects of employment on benefits eligibility;

b. Encourage collaboration between responsible parties to include benefits counseling as an ongoing component of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) planning process for students with disabilities who are receiving, or who may qualify for, public benefits no later than age 14;

c. Develop a public education campaign focused on informing people with disabilities and their families about existing work incentives programs and the tools available to assist people with disabilities obtain and maintain employment without adversely affecting their eligibility for needed benefits.

3. Increase and revise business outreach and engagement strategies focused on improving integrated competitive employment for people with disabilities in the Commonwealth, based on the most recent research on how to influence employer behavior.

a. Identify and recognize employers in the Commonwealth who are leaders in employing people with disabilities and use them to develop success stories for employers with limited experience employing people with disabilities;

b. Incorporate messaging into employer outreach efforts that situates people with disabilities into broader diversity/inclusion efforts of employers with existing inclusive workforce and recruitment efforts;

c. Increase disability awareness training opportunities for employers in the Commonwealth that incorporate people with disabilities as instructors.

4. Decrease the Commonwealth’s reliance on sheltered employment settings and increase competitive integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

a. End all new admissions to sheltered employment settings; develop a plan to phase out sheltered employment within 10 years, and transition individuals currently served in sheltered employment settings into competitive integrated employment;

b. Require service plans to identify and address barriers to competitive integrated employment for individuals currently served in sheltered employment settings;

c. Shift resources currently used to maintain sheltered employment settings and subminimum wage employment towards community-based and competitive employment options;

d. Develop a plan to phase out the use of subminimum wages for people with disabilities within five years.

5. Increase capacity for integrated employment opportunities in rural and underserved areas of the Commonwealth where employment options and choice of providers is limited.

a. Focus resources on providing technical assistance and training to existing and potential new providers in underserved areas of the Commonwealth;

b. Fund innovative projects focused on increasing integrated competitive employment options, including self-employment for individuals in rural and underserved areas of the Commonwealth;

c. Incorporate disability employment incentives into broader economic planning, and use existing business incentive programs to incentivize the employment of people with disabilities in the Commonwealth.

6. Eliminate Order of Selection in Virginia’s vocational rehabilitation programs and refocus the Commonwealth’s fiscal efforts away from sheltered employment and towards integrated competitive employment options.

a. Conduct an analysis to determine the potential cost of eliminating the waiting list for vocational rehabilitation services;

b. Redirect state funds from expensive sheltered employment services into more cost-efficient supported employment services.

7. Expand Registered Apprenticeship opportunities for people with disabilities, especially programs focused on transition-age youth and young adults.

a. Conduct a review of Registered Apprenticeship regulations to ensure they are programmatically accessible to individuals with disabilities;

b. Establish an interagency team to develop strategies to engage more people with disabilities in existing registered apprenticeships in the Commonwealth, and to consider expanding existing apprenticeship programs to provide more opportunities for people with disabilities;

c. Develop training and technical assistance to assist transition specialists in Virginia’s public schools, and other staff responsible for transition planning to understand Virginia’s Registered Apprenticeship programs and their availability to transition-age students and young adults with disabilities.