TOPEKA—Of the 178,000 working-age Kansans with disabilities, approximately 30 percent are considered engaged in the labor market, and 10 percent of those are currently unemployed.
To raise awareness of disability employment issues, the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) and the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) joined Governor Sam Brownback as he signed a proclamation on Sept. 30, in Topeka, to designate October as Disability Employment Awareness Month.
DCF’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program helped 1,440 Kansans join the workforce in fiscal year 2014. Over the past decade, the program has assisted more than 16,000 Kansans with disabilities become successfully employed, working an average of 30 hours per week.
DCF’s Director of Rehabilitation Services Michael Donnelly says employment opportunities and the employment rate of people with disabilities has improved over the years, but additional progress is needed.
“We face a continual challenge to overcome barriers for employment, which include attitudinal barriers both on the part of the employer and the employee, as well as accessibility issues and preparedness of potential employees,” Donnelly said. “I’m excited to see the tremendous changes that have come about, but I also am aware of the work still to be done.”
Representing other interested organizations in the proclamation signing were Robert Cooper, Director of the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Steve Gieber, Director of the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities; Keirsten Hale, Vocational Rehabilitation Manager for the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation; and Carrie Greenwood, Program Coordinator for the Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy, which equips young Kansans with disabilities for the future.
“Disability Employment Awareness Month is an especially important opportunity for youth to see successful adults with disabilities out in the community working and contributing to society,” Greenwood said.
KDOC Secretary Ray Roberts said preparing offenders with disabilities to reintegrate into the State’s general population with employment is a high priority for his agency.
“Those with disabilities who leave our correctional facilities can go directly into our workforce development programs that teach them how to get a job and keep a job, and it connects them with the resources they need to be successful,” Secretary Roberts said.
Roughly 75 percent of those who have achieved employment through the VR program report their wages as the primary source of income, an indicator of the decrease of reliance on public assistance and/or Social Security dependency.
Governor Brownback continues to push for greater opportunities for people with disabilities. In February 2015, the Governor issued Executive Order 15-02, reaffirming the State’s commitment to hiring people with disabilities. The Order directed that State agencies have employment practices which include outreach recruitment and hiring of military veterans and “individuals with physical, cognitive and mental disabilities.”
(left to right: Carrie Greenwood, Program Coordinator for the Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy; Ray Roberts, KDOC Secretary; Phyllis Gilmore, DCF Secretary; Keirsten Hale, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for Prairie Band Pottawatomie Nation; Governor Sam Brownback; Robert Cooper, Director of the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Jaime Rogers, DCF Deputy Secretary; Steve Gieber, Director of the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities; Stephanie Parkinson, DCF Family Services Special Assistant; Michael Donnelly, DCF Director of Rehabilitation Services)