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September 16, 2008    DOL Home > ODEP > News Room   

Acting Assistant Secretary Karen M. Czarnecki Answers Questions from the Public

The Labor Department's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) frequently receives questions from the public regarding various disability and employment issues.  Recently, ODEP compiled a list of typical inquiries, and posed them to the agency's Acting Assistant Secretary, Karen M. Czarnecki.  Following are the questions and her answers.

Question: I'm a human resources director for a medium-size company whose president has charged us with recruiting disabled veterans for a variety of positions. We have a really small HR staff, and there are so many new organizations out there assisting our returning veterans that I don't know where to begin.  Can you help?

Answer:  ODEP's Employer Assistance and Recruiting Network (EARN) has a staff member, who himself happens to be a disabled Gulf War veteran, dedicated to helping employers locate job-ready disabled veterans.  He can help you in three ways: First, he can help you navigate through the various service delivery systems to find qualified disabled veterans.  Second, he can provide technical assistance to you as you create a welcoming environment for your new hire.  Third, he can source your job postings with employment agencies that train and place disabled veterans. I would encourage you to contact EARN toll-free at (866) 327-6669, or through e-mail at To learn more about EARN's services, visit the service's Web site at

Question:  I am a parent of a 24-year-old son with Down syndrome. He was in a transition program in high school, and, when he graduated at age 21, was placed in a job at a local supermarket bagging groceries. He did well for the first two years, but over the past year he has resisted going to work and tells me that he is bored. What are his other options?

Answer:  Your son, like most adults, wants a career in a field that both excites him and utilizes his skills. He needs to explore his interests and skills with the guidance of a knowledgeable career specialist who can utilize a strategy that ODEP developed called "customized employment." This process allows the job seeker to create an individualized plan based on life experiences, goals, interests and abilities. You can read more about customized employment on our ODEP Web site Workforce page. For more resources, visit the ODEP-funded National Center on Workforce and Disability/Adult at For information on locating knowledgeable professionals in your locality, contact this technical assistance center toll-free at (888) 886-9898.

Question:  Our 14-year-old daughter was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. She is very bright, does well in school and always has been mainstreamed. She begins high school this year, and we are concerned that she will not have the full range of opportunities that will enable her to succeed not only in school but in a career and in life. Any suggestions?

Answer:  You are right to raise this concern. Your daughter, like any other young person, needs more than good academic preparation to succeed in the workplace and in life. Based on our research, ODEP has identified the Guideposts to Success - key educational and career development interventions that can make a positive difference in the transition of all youth, including youth with disabilities. The five guideposts include school-based preparatory experiences, career preparation and work-based learning experiences, youth development and leadership, connecting activities, and family involvement and supports.  You can learn more from the Youth section of our ODEP Web site.  Another resource is the ODEP-funded National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth at  This technical assistance center can also be reached toll-free at (877) 871-0744.

Question:  I'm a unit manager for a small local manufacturing company. One of my best employees was just diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He is having some vision problems, gets tired easily and is not too steady on his feet. This man is one of my best workers and has been with us for 10 years. He is thinking about going out on disability, but I don't want to lose him and he really likes working here. Is there anything we can do?

Answer:  You are wise to try to keep a valued employee. With the right planning and open communications, your employee can remain a productive member of your team. ODEP supports a technical assistance service called the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN's trained and highly experienced consultants can provide you and your employee with strategies and resources to help him continue on the job. You can reach JAN toll-free at (800) 526-7234.  To learn more about JAN's services, visit

Question:  I'm a 40-year-old woman who had a highly paid professional position until I was in a horrible car accident eight months ago. In that accident, I incurred a traumatic brain injury and complex orthopedic injuries. I am on the mend, but my life has been completely turned upside down and I want it back. Where do I begin to look for resources in my state that can help me?

Answer: We fully understand that finding the right services can be overwhelming. ODEP maintains a cross-government portal Web site,, which is a comprehensive online resource designed to provide you with quick and easy access to the information you need.  This site includes state resources in addition to federal information and resources. The site is organized by categories, such as "employment," "housing," "transportation," etc.  Once you click on a category, you also will find a state map. Just click on your state for links to state and local resources.

Question: I'm the vice president for a national public relations firm.  One of our clients made a corporate executive leadership commitment a number of years ago to fully including people with disabilities in its diversity initiatives. We believe this client has developed a number of effective policies and initiatives that have resulted in more employees with disabilities being hired and retained, and would like to find avenues by which this client can be recognized for these efforts. Do you know of any organizations that give this type of recognition?

Answer: I commend the company's leadership in hiring people with disabilities. The support of a corporation's top leadership is a vital component to full inclusion of workers with disabilities in the workplace.

The Department of Labor annually recognizes such accomplishments through the Secretary's New Freedom Initiative Award (NFI). This award is presented to individuals, non-profit organizations, small businesses and corporations that have demonstrated exemplary and innovative efforts to enhance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

I encourage you or your client to submit an application for the 2008 NFI Award competition. Look for a Federal Register announcement in February. More information is available on the New Freedom Initiative Awards page on this site. 

Question: I work for a private, non-profit agency that provides career counseling to individuals with disabilities. Many of our clients are really interested in self-employment. Do you have any new resources that would help me enable our clients to become successful entrepreneurs?

Answer:  ODEP funds a technical assistance center on self-employment called START-UP / USA. This center offers a variety of trainings and materials, as well as personalized technical assistance, on becoming self-employed. You can learn more by calling (804) 828-1851 or visiting the START-UP Web site at  ODEP's Job Accommodation Network (JAN) service also provides information on entrepreneurship and self-employment at

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