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ODEP - Office of Disability Employment Policy - Driving Change Creating Opportunity

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by
Assistant U.S. Secretary of Labor Kathy Martinez
Washington, DC
December 16, 2009

Thank you so much, Gerri, for sharing what ETA is doing on green jobs.

ODEP is committed to working with ETA as a strong Federal partner to ensure that the new DOL projects include workers and potential workers with disabilities.

As ETA's green grant competitions build the capacity of service providers to train workers for green jobs, ODEP and ETA will work together to ensure that the workforce development system implements universal design strategies for all providers, thus opening doors to many individuals previously untapped as workers in the green economy.

For Americans with disabilities to have an equal chance to share in the full promise of this green economy, a conscious effort must be made to make these industries universally accessible so that all can participate in and reap the benefits of employment and career advancement.

Thus a core tenet guiding these investments should be that in 21st Century America, people with disabilities increasingly must be prepared and tapped to be highly skilled workers in green, digital age, and other innovative industries. To do this, these investments should first of all incorporate universal access and universal design for learning principles and best practices as an integral part of all employment and economic development efforts.

What do we mean when we say "universal access" and "universal design" strategies?

Universal Design or Universal Access is a lens through which every aspect of a business or service provider can be viewed in terms of its products, services, physical environment, communications, and technology, and that allow for attraction and retention of employees of all abilities. This ultimately can result in increased profitability and success for companies.

Universal Strategies increase ease of access to products, places, and services for multiple, diverse populations. Using Universal Design Strategies means that facilities, programs, and services take into account the broad range of abilities, ages, reading levels, learning styles, languages, and cultures in their diverse workforce and customer base. While diversity brings experience, perspective, and stability to a workplace, it also means that employees and customers have a wider variety of needs and expectations.

Universal Strategies also apply to transportation for getting to and from work; green jobs' educational curricula; and general communication access between employees, their employers, and their green jobs' industry partnerships.

To illustrate a recent ODEP universal strategies' commitment, in September, through ODEP's funding to NTAR's State Leaders' Innovation Institute, the Maryland Governor's Workforce Investment Board submitted a Resolution that stated, "in order to assure that there truly are no spare Marylanders, all of Maryland's potential workers should be provided with universal access, services and processes according to the principles known as Universal Design."

Workers with disabilities should also be prioritized as a target group to receive training and support to pursue high-skilled careers in green and other high-demand fields.

Funding cooperative pilots by states, localities, employers, wage, and others to test effective ways of supporting people with significant disabilities who are on SSDI or SSI or at substantial risk of going on to the rolls to obtain and/or retain green collar employment at a livable wage is another investment that should be considered.

Rewarding green businesses and industries that incorporate best practices in recruiting, hiring, accommodating, retaining, and promoting employees with disabilities in their business models is another strategy to review.

Encouraging and seeding the development and educational investment of green micro enterprises and small businesses owned and controlled by entrepreneurs with disabilities can provide infrastructure support for the green industries.

Lastly, investing in the R&D of efficient and renewable energy, green universal design, hybrid cars, public transit, and affordable housing in ways that leverage and maximize benefits for all Americans, including those with disabilities and their families, is an investment that I believe everyone here supports.

As you heard from Gerri, ETA's Pathways Out of Poverty grants will support capacity building within the workforce development systems that are definitely needed to assist all people with complex employment needs, including those with disabilities.

ODEP stands ready to assist all of the green jobs grant partners and teams — private industry, labor unions, the education community, job training providers, and community and faith-based organizations. We will make available all of our disability resources, such as the Job Accommodation Network — a free resource with a wealth of assistance on all areas of reasonable accommodation, as well as the technical assistance available through the National Training and Research (NTAR) Leadership Center and other ODEP resources.

I know that you've heard from many of the panelists on identifying the trends, fostering state and local opportunities for strategic alliances, and promoting inclusion for all to support Secretary Solis' goal of "Good Jobs for Everyone." The afternoon facilitated discussions offered recommendations to incentivize these changes at the Federal and State levels, and both ETA and ODEP will review all your recommendations as we consider concrete next step actions to undertake.

We look forward to your questions at this time.