By Josh Cunningham
During the recent NCSL Capitol Forum in Washington, D.C., NCSL arranged a meeting with state legislative leaders and senior officials at the U.S. Department of Labor to share strategies aimed at enhancing work opportunities for people with disabilities.
Staff from NCSL and the State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED) met with SEED legislative champion Representative Marvin Abney (D-R.I.) and the leadership at the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) within the Department of Labor.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Jennifer Sheehy and Senior Advisor Patrick Mannix sat down with Abney, who served on the National Task Force on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities and helped craft the policy framework in the 2016 Work Matters report. Work Matters provides a bipartisan roadmap to improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The report covers a wide range of key employment supports including education, transportation and economic development issues.
During the meeting, ODEP leadership listened to Abney’s policy priorities for Rhode Island. He identified the need to increase opportunities for people with disabilities to work in integrated settings. He also noted that private sector employers would benefit from additional support to provide appropriate workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Sheehy and Mannix discussed the federally-funded Job Accommodation Network (JAN). AskJAN.org is a free resource for public and private sector employers, as well as their employees, to identify cost-effective workplace accommodations. The website identifies common accommodations for a wide range of specific health conditions and disabilities. JAN also offers free one-on-one consultations to assist with specific circumstances that an employer or employee may be facing.
ODEP leadership also observed that many small businesses struggle with the amount of paperwork that comes with claiming the federal Disabled Access Tax Credit for providing workplace accommodations. To help address this barrier, state vocational rehabilitation offices can complete the required tax forms for small businesses at no cost. This service helps small employers focus on their business needs and, at the same time, benefit from the tax break.
The meeting proved very productive and rewarding for both Abney and ODEP. NCSL looks forward to its continued work with ODEP and as a SEED partner helping states chart the way toward better employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Josh Cunningham is a program manager in NCSL's Employment, Labor and Retirement Program and tracks employment disabilities issues.