TOPEKA – Across the nation, low rates of participation in the work force are a significant issue for people with disabilities. Nationally, the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities is 33.1 percent, compared to a 77.6 percent participation rate of those without disabilities.
In the last 10 years, the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) has assisted more than 14,500 Kansans with disabilities become successfully employed through the agency’s Rehabilitation Services (RS) programs.
As a result of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, DCF recently launched a new program, Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS), to further its efforts to help Kansans with disabilities gain meaningful employment. Pre-ETS was first launched in FY 2017, and its services are designed to help youth with disabilities get an early start at job exploration, assist students with disabilities in making the transition from secondary to post-secondary education/training and to empower them to realize their full potential.
While many services are offered within Pre-ETS, Rehabilitation Services Director Michael Donnelly says that the program emphasizes the paid, work-based learning experiences.
“Through Pre-ETS, paid, work-based experiences allow for youth to learn the basic skills necessary to succeed in the workplace and experience the benefits of earning an income,” said Donnelly. “Research shows that youth employment is a strong predictor of successful employment as adults, and therefore these work-based experiences serve as an important milestone toward self-reliance.”
In order to implement paid work-based learning experiences, RS has established a partnership with the KANSASWORKS workforce centers, a program under the Kansas Department of Commerce and Local Workforce Developmental Boards. This innovative partnership, which leverages the expertise of the workforce centers and the Pre-ETS program services, has garnered national attention, as it was recently featured at a U.S. Department of Labor meeting in Omaha, Neb.
“By reaching individuals with disabilities at a young age with the Pre-ETS program, we are setting them up to succeed,” said DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore.
To raise awareness of disability employment issues, DCF staff joined Governor Sam Brownback as he signed a proclamation on Sept. 22, in Topeka, to designate October as Disability Employment Awareness Month. Kansas Commission of Disability Concerns (KCDC) Executive Director Martha Gabehart, along with Elinor Hurst, State Rehabilitation Council member, also attended the proclamation signing.
Hurst, a former Vocational Rehabilitation client is now employed with Bert Nash, a mental health facility, in Lawrence. She said that she was grateful that Governor Brownback and DCF were highlighting disability employment, as it is such an important issue.
“My experience in Vocational Rehabilitation was an extremely positive one. My social worker was amazing at helping me job search and tailoring the job search to my specific abilities,” said Hurst. “It was just a really supportive environment. I went from not believing in my own ability to return to work successfully, to having someone tell me, ‘yes you can, look at all of these jobs you can do.’ It made a huge difference in my life.”
(Governor Sam Brownback signs a proclamation designating October as Disability Employment Awareness Month. Those in attendance from left to right: Shayla Benton, Vocational Rehabilitation Program Specialist; Monty Herbert, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor; Felicia Green, Pre-ETS Specialist; Heather Koffman, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor; Evelyn McBride, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor; Governor Brownback, State of Kansas; Martha Gabehart, KCDC Executive Director; Elinor Hurst, State Rehabilitation Council Member; John Havel, Rehabilitation Manager; Kelly Milner, Rehabilitation Services Program Administrator; and Peg Spencer, Rehabilitation Services Deputy Director.)