By Loryn Cesario
More than 20 department and division leaders from across Alaska’s state government met recently with partners on the State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED) project to discuss and assess policy options aimed at increasing employment for Alaskans with disabilities.
Bobby Silverstein, principal expert on the SEED project, provided an overview of actions other states have taken regarding employment for people with disabilities. He also acknowledged Alaska’s continuing efforts in this area.
Numerous options were covered, from forming a task force and adopting state-as-a-model-employer legislation to youth transitions into careers and accessible transportation. While the goal of the meeting was to review a menu of options and not to make decisions right away, Alaska continues this work and is looking toward the future of employment for people with disabilities.
Immediately following the half-day policy forum, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and its partners held the Empowerment Through Employment conference—a two-day meeting for roughly 100 stakeholders, community providers, state government staff and others.
The conference highlighted policies, initiatives and programs aimed at getting more Alaskans with disabilities into the state’s workforce. Silverstein also presented at the conference covering Alaska’s innovative state-as-a-model-employer policy.
Other sessions focused on the school-to-work transition for Alaskan youth with disabilities with an emphasis on rural Alaskan and tribal economies. The Governor’s Council on Disability and Special Education launched a new resource for this transition to employment. The handbook offers a centralized guide to all resources offered in the state to help with this transition. It covers high school through post-secondary education, self-employment, success stories and the potential impact additional incomes may have on benefits.
The conference ended with some keynote remarks from the commissioners of Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development (Tamika Ledbetter, pictured) and the Department of Health and Social Services.
Several department and division staff spoke of the need to break down silos in their work in order to better serve Alaskans with disabilities and support their desire to participate in the workforce. As the state prepares for the 2020 legislative session, stay tuned to see what further action Alaska may take to expand employment opportunities for its citizens with disabilities.
Loryn Cesario is a policy associate with NCSL's Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.