The New Freedom Initiative Award was established by the Department of Labor in 2002 to encourage public-private partnerships to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to enhance the ability of Americans with disabilities to enter and advance within the 21st Century workforce. Such strategies include increasing access to assistive technologies and utilizing innovative training, hiring and retention strategies.
The award will be presented annually to one or more individuals, non-profit organizations or corporations that have demonstrated exemplary and innovative efforts to further the employment objectives of President George W. Bush's New Freedom Initiative.
Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao and former Assistant Secretary Roy Grizzard presented the Department's first New Freedom Initiative Awards on November 21, 2002. Three organizations and one individual were honored for exemplary and innovative public-private partnership efforts in furthering the employment objectives of the President's New Freedom Initiative.
Warren, New Jersey
U. S. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, Donna Walters Kozberg, President, Lift, Inc.; former Assistant Secretary W. Roy Grizzard
Since 1975, this small national nonprofit has placed information technology professionals with significant disabilities at more than 80 of the most prestigious corporations and government agencies in the country. By means of an intensely individualized, comprehensive and innovative six-step program of project planning, recruitment, skills development, contract employment, direct placement, and career-long follow-up, Lift has placed professionals with quadriplegia, blindness, deafness, and muscular dystrophy in meaningful long-term careers.
In the project planning phase, Lift works with management at its corporate clients= companies to identify long-term solid career opportunities for IT professionals. In the recruitment phase, Lift recruits individuals with significant disabilities and strong analytical ability to fill the positions targeted.
In the skills development phase, Lift provides training at no cost to the trainee in whatever skills are needed for the position. The training, which is full-time and can last anywhere from zero to six months, is designed to emulate the actual job. Trainees use the software, hardware, and accommodations they will use for the work. In addition, they attend regular meetings with their corporate team managers, and have e-mail and phone access to both the Lift team and their client teams from day one for support.
Following successful completion of the training phase, graduates are hired to work for Lift and assigned full-time corporate clients for a one-year apprenticeship. Lift continues to manage the process closely to ensure that each individual is able to work at his or her personal maximum productivity level. Salaries are paid to match corporate client pay ranges.
More than 95 percent of the participants who enter the apprenticeship phase are hired by participating corporate clients at the conclusion of the apprenticeship, and more than 88 percent are still with the same employer five years after placement.
The starting annual salary for a participant in the apprenticeship program has averaged $45,000 over the past three years.
San Diego, California
U. S. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, Elaine Cooluris, Executive Director, Able-Disabled Advocacy, former Assistant Secretary W. Roy Grizzard
Able-Disabled Advocacy is a non-profit organization residing in San Diego County since 1976, which has provided employment and training services to people with disabilities. This organization serves youth and adults with all types of disabilities, including but not limited to orthopedic, vision, and hearing impairments, psychiatric conditions, and learning disabilities.
Able-Disabled Advocacy emphasizes the need for and training in assistive technology to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Consequently Able-Disabled Advocacy has been heavily involved in numerous activities that increase access to assistive and universally designed technologies. These include converting the state of California Employment Development Department's (EDD) training manual for accessing the statewide job bank system to Braille: increasing universal access at San Diego's One-Stop Career Centers by co-location of Able-Disabled staff, and providing assistive technology, technical assistance, computer labs, computer skills training, and customized employment services; assisting employers and participants in negotiating job modifications and needed accommodations; developing and circulating an Assistive Technology Survey to more than 150 San Diego employers; and offering consulting, training, and technology assistance at no cost.
Able-Disabled Advocacy also has a number of innovative training programs which utilize computerized labor market information and job search training, entrepreneurial or e-business training, and online computer technology training.
Program year goals for 2002 included enrolling 444 participants and placing 318 in jobs. As of July (the deadline for the award application), Able-Disabled Advocacy had enrolled 464 participants and had placed 280 people with disabilities.
Vocational Advancement and Social Skills Training (V.A.S.T.) and Office Skills Training Program
Houston Community College System
U. S. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, Sue Moraska, Program Manager, Houston Community College System, former Assistant Secretary W. Roy Grizzard
These two programs serve individuals with developmental, learning and physical disabilities functioning at the kindergarten to 8th grade level. The V.A. S. T. program provides unique post-secondary educational opportunities focused on in-demand employment training, hiring and retention strategies. It assists students with making realistic career choices, building self-esteem and self-confidence by improving basic skills, participating in campus activities, improving social skills, and enhancing independent living skills. V.A.S.T. offers 32 courses per semester in basic academics and life skills, personal/social adjustment, computers (at a slower pace than in the office skills program), career vocational, independent living, job readiness, and various enrichment courses (plus work etiquette, job club, internships, interviewing, resumes, and dress for success).
The Office Skills program offers customized training to students with disabilities in the office occupations skills. This program includes a 10-week internship and provides course work in business communications, filing, general office, procedures, intermediate keyboarding, and PC fundamentals (Word, Excel, Power-Point).
As part of the overall program, students participate in special activities. For example, a College Day brings area high school students to visit the college. The Eagles Club, an organization for students with disabilities, sponsors an Ability Day in October, with all activities focused on the abilities of individuals. Students also participate in the national Disability Mentoring Day, which provides on-the-job mentoring or job shadowing within the college and at business sites in the community.
The two programs serve approximately 400 students per year. Approximately 10 percent of the students in V.A.S.T move into standard college credit courses or certificate programs. About 30 percent of the VAST students go on to the Office Skills Training Program. The remaining students either become employed at their particular skill level or are able to live more independently in the community after completing the program.
U. S. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, Bruce Borden, former Assistant Secretary W. Roy Grizzard
Bruce Borden, a person with quadriplegia, operates programs that serve individuals with a wide range of disabilities directed toward increasing employment opportunities through assistive technology and in other ways. He has also been influential in establishing affordable housing for people with disabilities in Wisconsin. In 1991, Mr. Borden established the Wheelchair Recycling Program, an organization that has collected, repaired, and distributed more than 150 tons of wheelchairs and other medical equipment to uninsured individuals throughout Wisconsin and to more than 50 foreign countries.
In 1996, he founded EBTIDE (Economic Benefit through Individualized Disabled Employment), a non-profit organization that seeks to create opportunities that maximize employment and economic advancement of people with disabilities. In conjunction with EBTIDE, the State of Wisconsin implemented Pathways to Independence, a Social Security Administration and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation demonstration project. This project gives participants simplified, coordinated access to comprehensive assistance in attaining their employment goals. The local Comprehensive Assistance Networks also recruit employers to match abilities of the individual with the employers' requirements. In addition, Pathways to Independence has had success in removing employment barriers resulting from public policy, including implementation of a Medicaid Purchase Plan designed to provide access to health care to people without current coverage who meet the SSI disability test, and an SSI waiver providing for a gradual reduction of cash assistance on a sliding scale for SSI recipients who want to work.
Mr. Borden has also been influential in working with Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development to conduct a demonstration project entitled "Making Work Pay" to address financial disincentives to viable competitive employment for people with disabilities. This program envisions systems change that redirects existing legislation, programs and public assistance into a streamlined one-stop portal that creates a self-directed benefits package for people with disabilities who are able to work and motivated to earn income above federally designed caps. The program also provides them with a hold-harmless guarantee regarding eligibility in their respective public assistance programs should they unexpectedly need to interrupt their employment for disability-related reasons.
Mr. Borden's achievements include 150 tons of wheelchairs and other medical equipment being distributed to individuals with disabilities, 110 families in Wisconsin becoming homeowners and serving more than 300 enrollees this year alone in the EBTIDE program.