Notice of Priority to Establish a Workforce Innovation and Technical Assistance Center

The Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services published a Notice of Proposed Priority to establish a Workforce Innovation and Technical Assistance Center to provide training and technical assistance to improve services under the State Vocational Rehabilitation Services program and the State Supported Employment Services program for individuals with disabilities, including those with the most significant disabilities, and to implement changes to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, signed into law on July 22, 2014. Comments must be received by Monday, July 21, 2014. Instruction on submission of comments can be found in the Notice.

Civil Rights Data on Students With Disabilities Released

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released its FY 2013-2014 Report to the President, Protecting Civil Rights, Advancing Equity. This annual report contains data and case examples of reported cases of discrimination under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The report shows that the greatest number of complaints of discrimination pertain to receiving a free and appropriate education (FAPE), retaliation, and different treatment/exclusion/denial of benefits.   In addition, the report includes data on combating disparities in school disciplinary practices (including restraint and seclusion); ensuring equal access to comparable educational opportunities; providing necessary academic adjustments for post-secondary students; safeguarding accessibility to appropriate technology; ensuring accessibility of programs, services, and facilities; and combating bullying and harassment on the basis of disability. See the report at: http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/ocr/report-to-president-and-secretary-of-education-2013-14.pdf

Department of Education Issues Letter on How Schools Must Respond to Bullying of Students with Disabilities

As part of National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance to schools reminding them that bullying is wrong and must not be tolerated—including against America’s 6.5 million students with disabilities. The guidance explains how schools must respond when students with disabilities are bullied in order to meet their civil rights obligations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act. For more information, see the Department of Education website.

Bipartisan Legislation to Update Critical Workforce Programs on Its Way to the President

Last Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), by a bipartisan vote of 415-6.

WIOA is a bipartisan, bicameral compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee last July. The bill was developed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative John Kline (R-MN), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX).

WIOA, which now heads to the President for signature, reauthorizes and updates existing federal workforce development programs, including the Rehabilitation Act which provides for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services for people with disabilities. WIOA focuses VR outcomes on competitive, integrated employment and promotes greater emphasis on transition services for youth with disabilities through emphasis on coordination between VR and other agencies including school systems, extending the initial time period for VR supported employment services (from 18 to 24 months), and modification of eligibility determination to promote access to VR by people with the most significant disabilities.

Over the last few years, reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act has been a top priority for The Arc’s public policy agenda. The Arc advocated for many improvements to the system now incorporated under WIOA. These improvements are consistent with its past and current position statements on Employment. Additionally, The Arc joined with other national disability groups to express strong support for WIOA.

The Senate Passes Bipartisan Legislation Seeking To Update Critical Workforce Programs

On June 25, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), by a bipartisan vote of 95 to 3. Amendments proposed by Senator Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Lee (R-UT) failed to be adopted.  The bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives for approval, would reauthorize and update existing federal workforce development programs, including the Rehabilitation Act which provides for vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. Specifically, WIOA focuses vocational rehabilitation outcomes on competitive, integrated employment and promotes greater emphasis on transition services for youth with disabilities.

WIOA represents a compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in July of 2013. The proposal was developed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative John Kline (R-MN), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX). The Arc supports this bipartisan, bicameral legislation.

Senate Confirms Gustavo Velasquez as HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity

Last Thursday, the Senate confirmed by a vote of 54 to 38 Gustavo Velasquez Aguilar as the next Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). FHEO administers federal laws and establishes national policies that make sure all Americans, including people with disabilities, have equal access to the housing of their choice. Particular activities include implementing and enforcing the Fair Housing Act and other civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 109 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, and the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.

Bipartisan, Bicameral Proposal to Reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act Announced

Last week, a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers announced that they have reached a deal to modernize the nation’s workforce development system through new legislation, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).  The bill would reauthorize and update existing federal workforce development programs, including the Rehabilitation Act which provides for vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. WIOA represents a compromise between the SKILLS Act (H.R. 803), which passed the House of Representatives in March of 2013, and the Workforce Investment Act of 2013 (S. 1356), which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in July of 2013. The proposal was develop by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Representative John Kline (R-MN), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Representative George Miller (D-CA), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Representative Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX). With regard to the Rehabilitation Act, like S. 1356, WIOA focuses vocational rehabilitation outcomes on competitive, integrated employment and promotes greater emphasis on transition services for youth with disabilities. To learn more, view the one-page summary, a statement of managers and detailed summary , and the legislative text. The Senate and House are expected to consider WIOA in June. The Arc supports this bipartisan, bicameral compromise.

The Department of Labor Releases Final Updates to Regulations Implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act

Last month, The Department of Labor (DOL) released final updates to regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.  Section 503 prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment against individuals with disabilities, and requires these employers to take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote, and retain these individuals.

For the first time in 40 years, federal contractors and subcontractors will be required to meet the goal of ensuring that 7 percent of each job group in their workforce be qualified individuals with disabilities. The rule sets out required activities that contractors and subcontractors will need to take in recruitment, training, record keeping, and policy dissemination. The new rules are similar to those that have long been required to protect women and minorities against discrimination in the workplace.

The unemployment rate among people with disabilities is unacceptably high. The Arc has long urged DOL to hold federal contractors and subcontractors to the same non-discrimination standards for hiring people with disabilities as it does concerning women and minorities. Federal contractors employ about 25% of the workforce in the US and employ millions of workers. The Arc is pleased to see these rules which open new doors to employment for people with disabilities. DOL is hosting a webinar about the new rules on September 18.

The Section 503 rules can be viewed on the Department of Labor website.

Senate HELP Committee Marks Up Bill to Reauthorize Workforce Investment Act

On July 31st the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up S. 1356, the Workforce Investment Act of 2013, approving the bill by a vote of 18 to 3.  This bipartisan legislation would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, including the Rehabilitation Act. Proposed changes to the Rehabilitation Act would provide greater emphasis on community employment outcomes as well as on services to help youth with disabilities transition from school to work. Additionally, the legislation proposes moving the Rehabilitation Services Administration from the Department of Education (ED) to the Department of Labor (DOL); transferring the Independent Living program from ED to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of the Administration for Community Living; and shifting the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research from ED to HHS. Visit the Committee website to view video of the mark up.

New Governor’s Report; Senate Takes Action on Workforce Investment Bill and Rehabilitation Services Commissioner Nomination

The summer winds down with several important new developments related to the employment of people with disabilities.

1. National Governors Association Issues Report on Employment for People with Disabilities

At the National Governors Association (NGA) meeting on August 2, 2013, outgoing NGA Chair Governor Jack Markell (DE) wrapped up his year-long Chair’s Initiative, “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.” The initiative focused on “the employment challenges that affect individuals with intellectual and other significant disabilities and the role that both state government and business can play in facilitating and advancing opportunities for these individuals to be gainfully employed in the competitive labor market.” At the NGA meeting, Governor Markell released a final Blueprint for Governors summarizing the initiative’s activities, findings, and recommendations. The blueprint presents five topic areas with examples of actions governors can take in each area:

  • Make disability employment part of the state workforce development strategy.
  • Find and support businesses in their efforts to employ people with disabilities.
  • Be a model employer by increasing the number of people with disabilities working in state government.
  • Prepare youth with disabilities for careers that use their full potential, providing employers with a pipeline of skilled workers.
  • Make the best use of limited resources to advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Governor Markell appeared recently on the PBS NewsHour to talk about the initiative and Blueprint.

Additionally, incoming NGA Chair Governor Mary Fallin (OK) has announced that her Chair’s Initiative will also focus on employment: “America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs.”

2. Senate HELP Committee Marks Up Bill to Reauthorize Workforce Investment Act

On July 31st the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up S. 1356, the Workforce Investment Act of 2013, approving the bill by a vote of 18 to 3.  This bipartisan legislation would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, including the Rehabilitation Act. Proposed changes to the Rehabilitation Act would provide greater emphasis on community employment outcomes as well as on services to help youth with disabilities transition from school to work. Additionally, the legislation proposes moving the Rehabilitation Services Administration from the Department of Education (ED) to the Department of Labor (DOL); transferring the Independent Living program from ED to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of the Administration for Community Living; and shifting the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research from ED to HHS. Visit the Committee web site to view video of the mark up.

3. Senate Confirms Janet LaBreck as Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Department of Education

On August 1st the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Janet LaBreck, who had been nominated by President Obama to serve as Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in February. According to a biography released by the White House:

“Janet L. LaBreck was the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB), a position she held since 2007. Ms. LaBreck joined the MCB in 1985 as Consumer Advocate. She has served in a number of positions at the MCB since then, including Independent Living Coordinator, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, and Regional Director of Central Massachusetts. Since 2005, she has worked as an Adjunct Professor at Assumption College, where she teaches courses in rehabilitation of the blind and case management in rehabilitation. She was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the New England College of Optometry. She received a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts and an M.Ed. from Springfield College.”