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July 11, 2007    DOL Home > ODEP > News Room > speeches   

W. Roy Grizzard, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor
Office of Disability Employment Policy

Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee
2007 Tennessee Disability Forum
Nashville, Tennessee
April 30, 2007

I would like to thank Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee for sponsoring this important forum for exchanging ideas and learning from one another. I commend all of you for coming together to identify the unmet needs of youth and adults with disabilities and to cooperatively design innovative solutions. Joining forces and sharing resources creates systemic change for long term results. Maximizing your efforts and reducing duplication will improve both economic and employment outcomes for Tennesseans with disabilities. I am proud to be part of what you are doing today to enhance systems and performance outcomes for workers with disabilities.

You may know that ODEP provides leadership in developing policy and practice to eliminate employment barriers to people with disabilities. ODEP is the only Federal agency that serves this purpose. Our policy development and implementation occur concurrently within three broad areas:

    • Workforce Systems
    • Employers and the Workplace, and
    • Employment-Related Supports

“Workforce Systems” include both Specialized and Generic Systems.

Specialized Systems are services and programs that specifically serve people with disabilities. For example, vocational rehabilitation falls within the “Specialized Systems” category. Generic Systems offer services and programs that serve all Americans, including those with disabilities. The One-Stop career centers are an example of Generic Systems.

ODEP invests substantial effort and resources to identify, validate, and foster implementation of innovative strategies within both systems.

ODEP’s view of “Employers and the Workplace” includes all aspects of the work environment; from how and where work is performed to how an organization’s structure, values, policies, and practices impact its job applicants and employees. These policies and practices include recruitment, hiring, accommodation, promotion, retention, and productivity.

To round out our overall approach, we focus on “Employment-Related Supports Policy.” This area encompasses both the Specialized and Generic Systems to which an individual must have access in order to obtain and maintain a job. Housing, transportation, and health care are covered in this area.

As a small agency, we obviously cannot accomplish this by ourselves. We also have no regulatory authority. In order to accomplish our objectives, we selectively partner and collaborate. As a result, we are able to leverage our efforts and maximize the impact of our work. In a very tangible way, we foster the adoption and implementation of policy and strategies throughout Federal, state and local non-government and government systems, and private and public sector employers where the barriers are located.

The majority of ODEP’s work requires working closely with our federal partners. For example, ODEP works with:

    • The Department of Transportation on employment-related transportation issues under United We Ride—a presidential initiative that ODEP help start.
    • The Department of Housing and Urban Development on a $13 million grant program targeting those with disabilities who are chronically homeless.
    • The Bureau of Labor Statistics to get a better assessment of the employment rate of people with disabilities.
    • The Department of Education on assistive technology and transition issues.
    • The Department of Health and Human Services on healthcare and mental health issues, and
    • The Department of Defense on assisting newly disabled returning service members to get back into the workforce.

This partnering and collaboration also provides another benefit. Traditionally, the majority of federally funded or administered services and policies were designed to address a single aspect of an individual’s life, be it their education, health care, employment or living situation. This “stovepipe” or “silo” approach to service design and delivery is inherently flawed, creating conflicts and leaving gaps. Individuals must move from one “silo” to another to obtain needed services and information.

Systemic change, facilitated by partnerships and collaboration, moves beyond thinking about individuals, individual organizations, single problems, and single solutions. The individuals’ expectations are really considered and addressed. It is only with coordinated programs, processes and services that we can confidently expect improved economic and employment outcomes for youth and adults with disabilities.

I would challenge you to consider using today’s forum as a kickoff for ongoing forums to forge a cooperative network throughout Middle Tennessee. Forming an active network is the first step in bringing about systemic change to improve employment outcomes. Next, you might consider partnership agreements, both formal and informal, as vehicles that recognize common objectives and interdependent roles and responsibilities. By accepting this challenge, it is important for you to be mindful of the critical need to prepare people with disabilities to meet the demands of a global workforce. Adding this dimension to your planning and coordination within service delivery systems is imperative.

Daily, America’s commercial interests compete in what is no longer just a local or regional environment. The competition to sell products and services arises from places half-way across the globe which many people have never heard of. To beat the competition, American business must employ outstanding individuals.

Therein reside both the problem and the opportunity. A recent report (“Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century Workforce”), commissioned ODEP’s first Alliance Partner, the Society for Human Resource Management and others, found that new entrants to the workforce were severely lacking in applied skills such as teamwork, collaboration and critical thinking. This is obviously not good news. However, if we properly prepare youth with disabilities to work in this new environment that is competing for talent, from any source, those youth will be employed.

It is our responsibility to see that people with disabilities step up to these demands and are not left behind. Each of us here today is part of the process of preparing people with disabilities to meet these changing requirements. Together, I believe we can make this happen. And when it does, I can see the day when all people with disabilities who want to work, will be working.

Earlier, I shared with you the three major areas of policy development: Workforce Systems, Employers & the Workplace, and Employment-Related Supports. Now, I would like to share three examples of how ODEP has moved from the top-level concepts to specific solutions. I can assure you that with these solutions, you can enhance your services and prepare people with disabilities for jobs in the 21st century. The three ODEP solutions are:

    • The Knowledge, Skills and Abilities Initiative,
    • Universal Design, and
    • Customized Employment

The Knowledge, Skills and Abilities Initiative outlines the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed by professionals to better connect all youth, including youth with disabilities, to workforce development opportunities.

We believe that improving the competencies of youth service practitioners through ongoing professional development is critical to shaping the workforce we envision. Ensuring that these workers have the skills they need to do their job well will lead to better practices with youth. Doing the job well will produce positive youth outcomes such as staying in school, graduating from high school, seeking an advanced degree, and getting a job. ODEP believes that the specific knowledge, skills and abilities identified in our Initiative will enable those who work with young people, both with and without disabilities, to reach higher levels of success.

The results are corroborating our research:

    • 4,500 members of the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals’ (NAWDP), an organization created in 1989 with start-up funding from DOL, are now offered a youth credential based on the KSAs.
    • The 900 member organizations at the National Partnership for Juvenile Services used the KSAs to develop their Youth Workforce Development Training Curriculum.

The second approach is Universal Design. Universal Design is an integral part of the world community that is evolving. I spoke recently at a forum on accessibility in the corporate environment at the International Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA). Attendees at the ATIA conference were taking a strategic look at a world where products and environments can be used by all people without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Creating products and services with the greatest variety of individuals in mind from the outset eliminates costly after-the-fact modifications.

Universal Design, however, applies to much more than just Assistive Technology—it applies to all aspects of a person’s life. Whether we are talking about transportation, or housing, or education, or healthcare, each affects employment and each can be opened up to all through universal design. We at ODEP devote a critical amount of time and resources with our federal partners who are responsible for providing supports and services to all people to “open up” those generic systems to be more inclusive of people with disabilities seeking employment.

When we speak of Universal Design in the context of workforce development, we must strive to ensure that our programs, services, and activities are designed to be useable to the greatest extent possible by all job seekers. Achieving Universal Design within the workforce development system involves changes in four key areas: policy, the physical environment, program design, as well as practices.

Success depends on a network of systems, agencies and organizations that are coordinated across the entire community, accessible and seamless. Making these changes creates an environment for maximum inclusion of all people—particularly those with multiple barriers to employment.

How do we know that this is effective? Listen to the results:

    • Thousands of One-Stop Career Centers in the workforce system now have a way to measure their compliance with Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).
    • Thousands of One-Stop Career Centers and other workforce system personnel now have the strategies to more effectively respond to the needs of an increasingly complex customer base, including people with disabilities and others with barriers to employment.

For those experiencing multiple employment barriers, ODEP offers a third approach: a competitive edge through Customized Employment. Customized Employment is a set of strategies that result in a job being individually tailored to meet the needs of an employee or job seeker and the identified needs of the employer. It is a win-win situation. Let’s face it, everybody begins to customize their jobs after being hired, reflecting personal preferences such as chair height, contributions, or strengths. ODEP’s Customized Employment initiative has demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach not only with people with disabilities, but with others who have complex life circumstances that impact their success in securing or maintaining employment.

To illustrate this latter point, let me tell you about Mary (not her real name) who came to a local One Stop for assistance. Mary faced many complex life situations not the least of which were being a young mother of three (all under the age of 5), relying on food stamps and living in a home for battered women.  In spite of low self esteem and limited work history, her ultimate goal was to obtain a job where she could “look someone in the eye.”

A customized employment career specialist, who truly understood Mary’s interests, skills and potential, encouraged Mary to enroll in Microsoft Excel and customer service training. After guiding Mary on how to coordinate multiple arrangements including child care, transportation and housing, an employment relationship was negotiated to meet the needs of both Mary and an employer.

And now, the rest of the story--in less than one year, Mary was promoted to management. I am happy to tell you that blending strategies, services and support using the principles of customized employment, Mary today can confidently and successfully look people in the eye.

I am pleased to tell you that thousands of workforce investment system professionals now use Customized Employment approaches in training, academic books, curriculum, and national rehabilitation journals. And individuals with disabilities, employed as a result of ODEP’s customized employment demonstration projects, earned on average $9.35 per hour, while 54% remained on their jobs at least 12 months.

ODEP is currently identifying ways to expand understanding and use of this customized approach. Within the Department of Labor, ODEP recently initiated a Customized Apprenticeship Collaboration with the Division of Wage and Hour and the Office of Apprenticeship to create intermediate levels of certification in the Culinary Arts Apprenticeship Program so that persons with significant disabilities can choose to complete intermediate levels of certification according to their abilities. Through this collaboration, persons with significant disabilities will be able to obtain community-based food service jobs starting at minimum wage or above.

ODEP has five new publications on Customized Employment including documents on Employment Supports, Youth Opportunity, a “How To” booklet on the elements and principles of CE and our newest publication on employment successes using the customized approach. I would encourage you to visit ODEP’s Web site at to review all of our publications. And while you are on the site, be sure to register to receive regular notifications of what’s new at ODEP.

Because network and partnership-building is inherent in any systemic change process, I would like to announce ODEP’s newest education and outreach effort. This spring, ODEP launched its new Alliance Initiative. ODEP’s Alliance Initiative enables organizations committed to improving disability employment to work with ODEP to develop and implement model policies and initiatives that increase recruiting, hiring, advancing, and retaining workers with disabilities. ODEP and Alliance participants will work together to reach out to, educate, and lead the nation’s employers, employees and organizations in advancing disability employment. Groups that can form an Alliance with ODEP will include employers, labor unions, trade or professional groups, government agencies and educational institutions.

You may have heard of the first Alliance we completed on October 26, 2006 when Susan Meisinger, President and CEO of the Society for Human Resources Management (or SHRM as it is more commonly known) and I signed the documents in my office. As many of your know, SHRM is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management with a growing membership of more than 217,000 HR professionals including members in more than 100 countries. Together, SHRM and ODEP are actively focusing on training and education, outreach and communication, technical assistance, and fostering a national dialogue. Our respective staffs are hard at work to complete three goals for year one of this Alliance: a user-friendly Disability Toolkit; a youth career event that includes young adults with disabilities; and a national campaign to promote the hiring of people with disabilities.

In parallel with our Alliances, we actively exchange information with the 17 business recipients of the New Freedom Initiative Award. This group, that met for the third time two weeks ago, is known as the NFI Circle of Champions. A key theme of these exchanges is to recognize the importance of public-private partnerships and then to act. To date, best practices identified through these exchanges include:

    • Securing commitment from top levels of leadership within a company.
    •  Making the commitment to employees with disabilities intrinsic to a company's culture.
    • Developing ways to measure success and holding managers accountable.
    • Offering flexible and adaptable work practices.
    • Building active relationships with disability employment groups.

And finally, ODEP needs your help to recruit outstanding applicants for the Secretary of Labor’s 2007 New Freedom Initiative Awards. In 2001, Secretary Chao created the New Freedom Initiative Award. Annually, non-profit organizations, small businesses, corporations and individuals are nationally recognized for increasing access to assistive technologies; utilizing innovative training, hiring and retention strategies; and instituting comprehensive strategies to enhance the ability of Americans with disabilities to enter and participate fully in the 21st century workforce. To date, 39 businesses, individuals, and non-profit organizations have received the award.

The period for nominating 2007 awardees is now open! I hope each of you will encourage individuals, non profit organizations and employers in Tennessee to apply to receive this prestigious recognition. I expect that there are many of you in this audience who should nominate for this award. The deadline for submitting your nomination is May 31. For more information including information on past awardees, please visit ODEP’s Web site at,

In closing, let me say that as you embrace systemic change in Middle Tennessee, please be sure to visit two government Web sites to avail yourselves of the many resources that support your efforts to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities: and

Thank you again. Please know that I will be anxious to know if you decide to accept this challenge to form a network in Middle Tennessee!

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