Employment Assist

The Workforce Investment Acts directs funds and resources to improve work-force services for people with disabilities.

Under the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (DOLETA) directed funds and resources to improve work-force services for people with disabilities, including those with psychiatric and other nonvisible challenges. Funding for the Disability Program Navigator (DPN) Initiative was in response to barriers to One-Stop services, including physical and program accessibility, and meaningful and effective participation of job seekers in the work-force investment system.

Since 2003, DOLETA has spent approximately $125 million, along with $12 million from the Social Security Administration (SSA), to jointly fund, implement, pilot, and evaluate the DPN Initiative within the state-level work-force system. Currently, 42 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico implement DPN projects.

In July, the U.S. Department of Labor released a new study on the Disability Program Navigator Initiative. It evaluates One-Stop Career Centers’ support of Social Security disability benefits recipients in finding jobs.

“Use of One-Stops by Social Security Disability Beneficiaries in Four States Implementing Disability Program Navigator Initiative” measures whether the public work-force system, particularly the One-Stop Career Center system, is helping people who are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) find jobs in the workplace. The study was conducted in Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, and Oregon and used information for program years 2002 through 2007.

 “This administration is focused on reducing the number of people receiving SSDI and SSI, with the goal of increasing job opportunities,” says Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Jane Oates. “The public work-force investment system’s role in serving people with disabilities and reducing [their] unemployment and underemployment is critically important. For the first time, we have data clearly documenting that thousands of Social Security disability beneficiaries are seeking and receiving services from One-Stop Career Centers in four states.”

 This study demonstrates that the One-Stop Career Centers are serving a large share of people receiving Social Security disability benefits. The public work-force system is providing important support for beneficiaries who want to work and increasing their employment opportunities. The report is available online at http://disability.workforce3one.org/view/2001018107873517795/info.

How a DPN Can Help

Glen Howell is a Disability Navigator in Wisconsin. He previously served as a business consultant volunteer at the local Job Center, where he helped people with their job-seeking skills. Prior to that, he was a business unit coordinator for an automobile parts supplier.

“I became a casualty of the automobile bail-outs of 2009,” Howell says. “I was recommended by the center supervisor due to my background in disability and my customer-relations skills.”

The DPN Initiative’s training requirements include online courses; monthly training on ADA updates, Social Security programs, federal and state assistance programs; and experience in customer service. Howell recently graduated from a psychiatric disabilities course through the local university and is enrolled in disability-related courses for the fall semester.

At most locations, Navigator is a part-time job. However, a few states have full-time Disability Navigators such as Howell.

“Our days start out like many customer-service positions do. We answer voice-mails, e-mails, and text messages and finish work left over from the previous day,” Howell explains. “Since most of our time is spent finding new resources and answers to specific employment questions related to disability, we are on the phone or the Net developing new strategies and building relationships with state and local resources.”

According to Howell, most Navigators report to a home office. However, each state is broken into regions. Wisconsin has nine, and Howell is responsible for Region 8, which covers nine counties in west central Wisconsin. He visits each location monthly to assist clients with disability employment questions.

“Most Navigators have similar-sized regions, and they are about to expand even more as the program is in the process of being downsized by the Department of Labor,” Howell says. “However, Senator Tom Harkin is fighting hard to continue the funding.”

Howell has worked with people who have various disabilities. For instance, a diagnosis of emphysema impacted “Robert’s” ability to work for nearly 17 years. Following a successful lung transplant, he was ready to re-enter the work force to be more active and earn additional income. On the recommendation of a hospital social worker, he decided to learn more about the Ticket to Work program for SSDI and SSI beneficiaries. This recommendation led him to a One-Stop Career Center.

The center is where Robert first met with a Disability Navigator. He shared his story, employment interests, and questions about returning to work after a long absence from the work force. Together they discussed these topics as well as Ticket to Work and the wide variety of services and resources that could help Robert gain employment. At the One-Stop Center, he explored his interests, learned about education and training options, and accessed a variety of services to help with his job search.

Well dressed and armed with a positive attitude and copies of his résumé, Robert went to a local job fair. After visiting with prospective employers, he submitted applications and waited for a response. A few weeks later, he was called for an interview and offered a position.

Robert’s dedication to finding employment, along with the services provided by the Disability Navigator, added up to one of the many successes he is likely to experience in the work force.

What kind of work is the average person finding these days? It depends on his/her qualifications, of course.

“In my area, a lot of the job seekers are 40 or older and have no computer or job-seeking abilities,” Howell explains. “Even clients coming out of college with a bachelor’s degree are having a hard time. There are openings in the IT and medical fields, but these require more than a four-year degree or specialized training.”

 Howell says that even with President Obama’s promise to hire more veterans, “We have seen very little activity in our area. With the economy slowly rebounding, hopefully this will change.”

Even with the grim employment news, Howell finds his work rewarding.

“The best part of my job happens quite frequently,” he says. “Newly unemployed individuals will come to the office practically in tears, and afraid, and after I spend a few minutes with them, they leave with smiles on their faces—and hope.” 


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