Initiatives and Accomplishments
ODEP’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN) continues to provide assistance to employers and workers on effective job accommodations for people with disabilities, with an emphasis on emerging issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, among them telework, vaccinations and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and supports for workers experiencing symptoms of Long COVID. In support of the latter, the Secretary of Labor records a radio PSA educating workers with Long COVID about their rights and sharing JAN as a resource to assist. JAN also unveils its new “MyJAN” portal, which allows website visitors to save and organize JAN resources of interest to them in one location.
ODEP establishes an alliance with the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity. It also renews its alliances with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). As part of its alliance with the latter, ODEP assists SHRM in launching an “Inclusion Pledge” that encourages its members to promote diverse, equitable and disability-inclusive workplaces. Other active alliance members include the American Staffing Association, National Industry Liaison Group, Professional Baseball Athletic Training Society and Disability:IN.
Analysis of Employment Trends During COVID-19
ODEP issued the Employment of People with Disabilities: Analysis of Trends During COVID-19 Pandemic Brief to examine the employment of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. This brief presents analysis of trends in key labor force statistics from the Current Population Survey (CPS) for persons with and without disabilities since the beginning of the pandemic through December 2020. Using findings from other independent research, this brief also explores two key aspects of occupations and industries associated with employment outcomes: teleworkability and whether the job requires workers to be in close proximity with others.
ODEP celebrates its 20th anniversary with a variety of activities, including interviews with former leaders and a blog post series exploring the impact of its work and commitment to driving change and creating opportunity going forward.
The ODEP-funded Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA) launches to advance policies and practices to drive career pathways in high growth, high demand (HGHD) job fields. PIA seeks to engage employers and apprenticeship intermediaries in designing inclusive programs that meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to gain credentials and skills to succeed in HGHD industries. To achieve this goal, PIA launches its “Apprenticeship for All” podcast series, Resource Library, and Clean Energy Spotlight.. PIA also releases three guides for employers: Designing Inclusive Apprenticeships Guide, Perspectives on Apprenticeship and The Value of Inclusive Apprenticeships. ODEP also publishes a series of briefs synthesizing outcomes learned from its former Apprenticeship Inclusion Models initiative, which laid the foundation for PIA. The critical role inclusive apprenticeship plays in states’ economic recovery from COVID-19 is also highlighted through a National Conference of State Legislatures report, Apprenticeships: A Pipeline for an Inclusive Recovery, developed in collaboration with ODEP’s State Exchange on Employment and Disability.
Through the Advancing State Policy Integration for Recovery and Employment (ASPIRE) initiative, ODEP assists seven states to integrate policy, program and funding infrastructures to expand evidence-based employment services for people with mental health conditions using the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model of Supported Employment. The ASPIRE Initiative has a particular focus on increasing access for Americans with mental health disabilities from Afro-diasporic backgrounds, and it also includes those individuals with co-occurring substance use disorder. States currently participating in ASPIRE include Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Assistant Secretary Confirmation
The U.S. Senate confirms Taryn Williams as the fourth Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy.
The ODEP-funded Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) embarks on its next PSA campaign, producing assets to be released in early 2022. The focus of the campaign is workplace mental health, a topic of increased importance as workers experience increased stress and anxiety amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To develop the PSA and accompanying materials, ODEP engages a number of leading mental health subject matter experts. The CDE’s previous PSA, “Working Works,” also remains in distribution, ending the year with more than 58,000 airings on television stations nationwide.
Competitive, Integrated Employment
ODEP continues to advance competitive, integrated employment (CIE) through a wide variety of initiatives, including its LEAD Center, National Expansion of Employment Opportunities Network (NEON) and Advancing State Policy Integration for Recovery and Employment (ASPIRE). It also implements a national Employment First Community of Practice which reaches over 7,000 people monthly, providing presentations from recognized experts on all aspects of provider and systems transformation to CIE, and maintains a comprehensive website on these topics. ODEP also disseminates information on new funding and flexibilities for increasing access to CIE provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act; American Rescue Plan Act; Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act; and Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, as well as through the work of multiple federal agencies.
ODEP, in coordination with other DOL agencies, continues to help employers and workers navigate the challenges brought on by continuing waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Key areas of focus include accessible telework, states’ youth policies, strategies for supporting workers’ mental health, and accommodations and workplace rights for workers experiencing Long COVID.
ODEP also assists states in ensuring inclusive pandemic-response policies through the COVID-19 Policy Collaborative formed under the auspices of the State Exchange on Employment and Disability initiative.
COVID-19 Policy Collaborative for an Inclusive Recovery
The COVID-19 Policy Collaborative for an Inclusive Recovery, formed by ODEP under the auspices of its State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED), works to identify ways to support state and local policymakers in ensuring an inclusive and equitable response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Focusing on four broad topic areas (safety and health, mental health, vaccinations and workforce readiness), the Collaborative convenes key stakeholders and subject matter experts for a series of three virtual meetings and, based on information gleaned, develops a suite of resources, among them Frameworks for a Disability Inclusive Recovery and Policy Checklist for a Disability-Inclusive Recovery.
Customized Employment Videos
ODEP, in collaboration with the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, produces two videos highlighting the value of customized employment for veterans. Customized Employment Works for Veterans: A Win-Win Strategy describes customized employment from the veteran, service provider and employer points of view, while Customized Employment Works for Veterans: A Job that I Love focuses on the importance of discovery in the customized employment process.
Data Collection and Analysis
In partnership with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), ODEP continues to report monthly disability employment statistics derived from the Current Population Survey (CPS), the Federal Government’s source for comprehensive estimates on labor force participation, employment and unemployment. ODEP and BLS also release Persons with a Disability – Labor Force Characteristics 2020, a summary of data from the year before, and update an analysis of trends in disability employment during the COVID-19 pandemic to reflect data through December 2020. To honor the 100th anniversary of DOL’s Woman’s Bureau, ODEP also publishes a brief examining the state of women with disabilities in the labor market.
ODEP’s Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) produces a range of resources and webinars to assist employers in building diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces, with a focus on meeting the needs of both remote and onsite employees with disabilities during the ongoing pandemic and supporting workers’ mental health. EARN unveils https://askearn.org/, a new website structured around the four phases of the employment lifecycle—recruit, hire, retain and advance. Among the new site’s resources are self-paced online training courses, easy-to-use checklists, in-depth policy guides, videos on inclusive business practices adopted by companies like JPMorgan Chase and PepsiCo and archived webinars on a variety of issues including creating disability inclusive workplaces and ensuring safe and healthy workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employment First Community of Practice
ODEP continues to assist states in advancing competitive integrated employment (CIE) opportunities for people with disabilities through the Employment First Community of Practice. Monthly webinar topics include state guidelines for employment services personnel certification; the impact of COVID-19 on employment of people with disabilities; pre-employment transition services challenges and success; value, outcome and performance-based payment methodologies to advance CIE; and customized employment for veterans. ODEP develops and releases its guide on Value-Based Payment Methodologies to Advance Competitive Integrated Employment: A Mix of Inspiring Examples from Across the Country along with a three-part webinar series highlighting key components from the guide with examples from states and state systems.
In coordination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM), ODEP continues to play a key role in advancing the employment of people with disabilities in the federal workforce, with a special emphasis on helping agencies meet their goals under Executive Order 14035, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce. A main avenue for this is the Federal Exchange on Employment and Disability (FEED) managed by the ODEP-funded Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) and comprising more than 1,700 professionals in human resources, equal employment opportunity, diversity and inclusion, reasonable accommodation and other fields from across the Federal Government. In collaboration with the EEOC, EARN includes a Directory of Federal Affirmative Action Plans on its AskEARN.org website. This repository of AAPs provides easy access to federal agency strategies for disability inclusion.
In collaboration with the Employee Benefits Security Administration, ODEP and its LEAD Center unveil the Secure Your Financial Future toolkit. Framed around five major phases of the employment lifecycle, this online resource addresses common concerns and provides resources for people with disabilities, including those from underserved communities, as they pursue employment and the financial stability and freedom it provides. The toolkit is updated every quarter to feature the most relevant existing resources as well as newly created resources. It has a particular focus on developing resources for historically marginalized communities with disabilities, as well as marketing the toolkit to these communities.
To support workers and employers navigating prolonged telework in response to ongoing waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, ODEP focuses on helping employers adopt and implement inclusive telework policies and practices. As part of this, ODEP’s Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT) adds to its Telework and Accessibility Toolkit guidance on hosting accessible virtual meetings; its Job Accommodation Network (JAN) publishes guidance on telework as a reasonable accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic; and its Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) publishes Leveraging Remote Work to Increase Inclusion and Adopting an Integrated Telework Policy for Employees With and Without Disabilities. PEAT, JAN and EARN also educate about the topic via webinars, webcasts and media interviews.
In collaboration with the White House, ODEP coordinates the department’s efforts to support workers experiencing lingering symptoms of COVID-19, a condition referred to as Long COVID. Key messaging focuses on helping workers with Long COVID understand that they may be entitled to job accommodations to help them stay at or return to work, as well as educating employers about effective accommodations for affected workers. As part of this, ODEP produces a radio PSA featuring the Secretary of Labor that airs across the nation, and ODEP’s Assistant Secretary participates in a number of media interviews.
With workers reporting higher rates of stress and anxiety as a result of COVID-19, ODEP continues to promote best practices for supportive, mental health-friendly workplaces. As part of this, the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) adds to its Mental Health Toolkit and profiles several companies’ efforts to support workers’ mental health needs during the pandemic. The toolkit is updated to include information and resources on Substance Use Disorder. EARN also conducts a webinar highlighting the importance of creating mentally healthy workplaces. A Checklist for Mentally Healthy Workplaces and a brief on mental health in the workplace are issued providing further guidance on supporting employee mental health. In addition, ODEP’s Advancing State Policy Integration for Recovery and Employment (ASPIRE) initiative, assists states to advance competitive integrated employment for people with serious mental health conditions, while its Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth)explores best practices for supporting youth with mental health conditions as they prepare to enter the workforce in the post-pandemic era. ODEP also represents the department on the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee led by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
National Online Dialogues
Through its ePolicyWorks initiative, ODEP partners with a range of federal, state and non-governmental partners to host a series of national online dialogues on issues impacting disability employment. Among the topics addressed are inclusive apprenticeship; advancing worker equity; inclusive design of autonomous vehicles; advancing financial equity; and women workers and the pandemic recovery. Input gathered during each of these dialogues is compiled to help inform ODEP and other agencies’ policy work going forward.
ODEP oversees the 76th National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October, centered around the theme, “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” Key activities include hosting a virtual event featuring the Secretary of Labor, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy and other notable speakers as well as the development of the annual NDEAM poster and a social media toolkit for use by individuals and organizations around the country. The President also issues a proclamation recognizing the month.
ODEP’s National Expansion of Employment Opportunities Network (NEON) initiative develops and releases its NEON National Plan to Increase Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE), which outlines strategies for helping five national provider organizations (ACCSES, American Network of Community Options and Resources, Association of People Supporting Employment First, SourceAmerica, and The Arc of the U.S.) strengthen their networks’ capacity to increase CIE.
ODEP and ODEP’s technical assistance centers develop key resources to assist employers in understanding the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace and effective accommodations for neurodivergent individuals, including during the hiring and onboarding process. As part of this, the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion develops a new Neurodiversity Inclusion: Checklist for Organizational Success and enhances its Neurodiversity in the Workplace toolkit.
OFCCP Southeast Region Collaboration
ODEP and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) Southeast region facilitate a seven-part webinar series titled Inclusive Resources and Technical Assistance that begins in the spring of 2021 and will end in the summer of 2022. Each 60-minute session spotlights an ODEP technical assistance center (TAC) or resource. ODEP kicks off the series with an overview of the agency and a Workforce Recruitment Program presentation. Each TAC provides tools and professional development opportunities to address disability-focused employment access barriers identified by the OFCCP Southeast region federal contractors, 63 regional Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and related stakeholders.
Paid Family and Medical Leave
ODEP issued the Access to Paid Leave for Family and Medical Reasons Among Workers with Disabilities Brief that examines access to paid leave for certain family and medical reasons and highlights differences in access based on disability status. The authors use publicly available data from the American Time Use Survey, linked to the Current Population Survey (CPS), to examine factors related to access such as race/ethnicity, earnings, education, unionization, industry and occupation.
Racial and Social Equity
ODEP plays a key role in DOL’s efforts to increase racial and social equity in its policies, programs and procurement activities in response to Executive Order 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. Key activities include a national online dialogue to gather ideas from the public and a listening session engaging the business community on barriers to equity in the awarding of federal contracts and subcontracts by DOL and other agencies. ODEP also establishes an Alliance with the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity (AAAED). AAAED is the longest-standing national civil rights organization of professionals who engage in the important work of leading, directing and managing affirmative action, equal opportunity, diversity and other human resource programs. ODEP also addresses the intersection between race and disability though blog posts, webinars and other activities.
ODEP and the Employment and Training Administration (ETA), in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA), provided approximately $103 million in additional grant funding to five states participating in the Retaining Employment and Talent after Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) Demonstration Program. This funding allows the five states to expand health and employment early interventions to restore gainful employment of ill or injured workers, including those affected by COVID-19 and those from underserved communities, which states developed in the first phase of RETAIN. This should enable states to help thousands of ill or injured workers stay at or quickly return to work. Doing so will help not only these workers and their families, but also businesses and communities, and RETAIN projects will provide lessons that can be adopted across the US and improve federal policy.
ODEP began the Research Support Services for Employment of Young Adults (REYAAS) Project to build evidence regarding approaches to improve gainful employment for young adults (ages 16 through 28) with developmental disabilities, particularly those on the autism spectrum. This effort aligns with federal priorities under the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (CARES) Act of 2019 to expand access, opportunity, and quality of life for youth and adults on the autism spectrum. This project will also support broader efforts to enhance federal policy and practices to support neurodiversity at work and strengthen access to competitive integrated employment for youth and adults with disabilities. Key activities include reviewing the current literature on existing strategies to support employment for this population; assessing and analyzing exiting data to examine the current state of affairs and improve programs and services; holding listening sessions with a range of diverse stakeholders; and developing evaluation designs and recommendations for future efforts to build evidence.
SSI Youth Solutions Initiative
Under ODEP’s SSI Youth Solutions Initiative, 12 teams of subject matter experts (SMEs) identify innovative and evidence-based policy actions for increasing labor force participation among youth ages 14 to 24 receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Resulting policy and program solution papers are published in May, and SMEs convene in June to share and discuss their ideas, which broadly fall into four categories: improving case management and service coordination; using evidence-based curricula that promote awareness about disability employment and the benefits of youth empowerment; encouraging and expanding access to education and training; and changing federal policy to expand financial assistance and access to supportive services.
Through its State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED) initiative, ODEP provides assistance to state and local policymakers to adopt disability-inclusive policies and best practices. In 2021, SEED’s direct policy assistance to 47 states results in more than 110 new laws and executive orders that align with the Work Matters policy framework and ODEP’s policy priorities. SEED also launches its new microsite to serve as a central source for resources developed under the initiative to help state and local policymakers adopt disability-inclusive policies and best practices. In addition to an overview of the types of policy assistance SEED provides, the microsite includes policy examples, articles, blogs, podcasts and webinars produced by SEED’s partners and a dedicated page with resources to assist policymakers in facilitating an inclusive recovery.
Through its Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology (PEAT), ODEP fosters collaborations with and between technology companies to promote accessible, inclusive workplaces, with a focus on emerging technologies. New resources include the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Disability Inclusion Toolkit, Equitable AI Playbook, and Inclusive Extended Reality (XR) in the Workplace guide. ODEP also partners with other federal agencies on inclusive technology efforts and research into new focus areas, such as the digital divide for people with disabilities. PEAT also enhances its Telework and Accessibility Toolkit to assist employers in meeting employees’ needs during the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, and continues its Future of Work podcast series.
In collaboration with other federal agencies, ODEP conducts a number of activities to promote accessible transportation as an employment support for people with disabilities, with a focus on the promise of autonomous vehicles (AV). As part of this, ODEP helps the U.S. Department of Transportation publish a request for information to assist in developing a library of resources on inclusive AV design and mount Phase 2 of its Inclusive Design Challenge. ODEP also participates on DOT’s Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM), which seeks to coordinate federal transportation programs serving people with disabilities.
Workforce System /LEAD Center
ODEP, in coordination with its LEAD Center, conducts a wide range of activities to increase access to the nation’s public workforce development system for people with disabilities in the context of Section 188 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Webinar topics range from facilitating re-entry of people with disabilities after incarceration to the Individual Placement and Support model of Supported Employment to financial wellbeing for individuals with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, to name just a few. ODEP’s Workforce Systems Policy team and LEAD Center also collaborate with the Employee Benefits Security Administration to develop the Secure Your Financial Future toolkit and host a number of events, including a webinar and national online dialogue on issues of financial literacy. LEAD also works with ETA’s Division of Indian and Native American Programs (DINAP) to collect data on the prevalence of disability within the grantees’ program participants and present promising practices to serve program participants with disabilities through a series of webinars. To advance racial equity, LEAD conducts pilots in three local workforce development areas to leverage Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) efforts through bank investment in disability employment for low-income individuals who are primarily people of color. The pilot sites are: New York’s Capital Region (Albany, New York), Michigan Works! Southwest (Kalamazoo, Michigan), and CareerSource Broward (Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
ODEP continues to manage the annual recruitment and hiring cycle for the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense. The result is a 2021 database that federal hiring managers can access to connect with more than 2,500 students and recent graduates with disabilities seeking internships or long-term federal employment. The program is also highlighted in Executive Order 14035 as a key tool for increasing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce.
Through a variety of activities, the ODEP-funded Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth) assists states to build capacity within their workforce and youth service delivery systems to better serve youth with disabilities as they prepare to transition to employment in the post-pandemic era. As part of this, it hosts webinars and publishes a number of briefs on related topics. It also conducts research, with a focus on pre-employment transition services, strategies for effectively serving youth with a first episode of psychosis, and how to better support youth through a trauma-informed, culturally responsive model. CAPE-Youth also continues to compile and share innovative state-level practices to support students and young adults during COVID-19. It creates a 50 state COVID-19 policy scan. The scan highlights states’ numerous programs for individuals with disabilities through initiatives focused on employment, education, transportation and other aspects of full community inclusion.
Zero Project Awards
Two ODEP-funded initiatives—the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology and State Exchange on Employment & Disability—receive 2021 Zero Project Awards, which annually recognize innovative practices and policies that advance the rights of and quality of living for people with disabilities.