On May 10, 2023, during Mental Health Awareness Month, Workforce Matters held a webinar with the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the U.S. Department of Labor. The webinar featured Assistant Secretary Taryn M. Williams, Anupa Iyer Geevarghese, Chief of Staff, and Robert Trombley, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary. The conversation was moderated by Elaine Katz, Senior Vice President of Grants and Communications of the Kessler Foundation, one of Workforce Matters’ steering committee members. 

While a growing number of employers recognize the value that diversity and inclusion can bring to their organizations, there is a long way to go to close disparities and increase accessibility in the labor market for people with disabilities, despite the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law nearly 33 years ago. As of May 2023, labor force participation rates for people with disabilities remains much lower than for people without disabilities, at 24.3% and 68% respectively. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities at 7.8% is also more than twice that of people without disabilities at 3.2%. 

Our conversation focused on the importance of promoting inclusion for people with disabilities in the workforce and opportunities for workforce funders to do more to promote inclusion and accessibility in workforce programs and policy. 

Assistant Secretary Williams and her team shared information about several initiatives that ODEP and the USDOL are working on to ensure that people with disabilities benefit from federal investments in workforce and economic development, such as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS Act. These include six policy development and technical assistance resources that ODEP sponsors: 

Our speakers shared a number of suggestions for how funders can increase workforce opportunities and access for people with disabilities. 

  • Examine your own programs and services and those of your grantees and consider whether they are accessible to people with disabilities?
    • Consider whether trainings are designed with universal learning concepts in mind.
    • Consider utilizing accessible design principles when putting together new materials
    • How are grantees meeting physical and programmatic accessibility needs?
    • Have grantees developed relationships with disability services providers in their communities?
  • Examine your own workplace practices
    • What is the makeup of your own workforce? 
    • Do you have policies in place that support disability inclusion in your workplace?
    • Are you providing adequate accommodations? 
  • Take stock of what you measure, since what you measure, matters. Data helps us know the extent to which we are building inclusive workplaces and developing inclusive workplace policies
    • Are you collecting and examining data around disability inclusion in your workforce? 
    • What is the composition of your workforce? Are you able to answer this question with respect to disability?
    • How many people with disabilities are being served by your grantees? And how well are they being served? What are their outcomes?
    • What information are you asking for in your RFPs?

Open a conversation with your grantees and colleagues in your workplace about accessibility and disability inclusion. Ensure you know where people are and then you can develop strategies to meet them there.

Resources shared during the webinar included:

View the video recording of the webinar here.