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Disability Inclusive Employment Policy RRTC
Disability Inclusive Employment Policy Rehabilitation Research and Training Center Newsletter

October 2023 - Issue 11


Welcome to the eleventh issue of the Disability Inclusive Employment Policy RRTC newsletter. The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Disability Inclusive Employment Policy (DIEP) is designing and implementing a series of studies to produce new data and evidence on policy levers to increase the employment rates of working age individuals with disabilities. The goal of the Center is to inform future employment policy and program development. The Center is a collaboration between researchers at Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University (BBI) and researchers at Harvard and Rutgers Universities. 

Invite others to receive this quarterly FREE newsletter to stay updated on the latest employment policy research related to advancing economic stability, and security for youth and adults with disabilities.

Celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October marks the beginning of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, or NDEAM. NDEAM celebrates the contributions of people with disabilities in America’s workplace and economy. Led by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (DEP) within the US Department of Labor, in coordination with the White House and other federal agencies, this year’s theme is “Advancing Access and Equity: Then, Now and Next.”

This year’s theme celebrates the passage of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1973 fifty years ago and its importance in prohibiting discrimination based on disability in employment by federal agencies, federal contractors, and recipients of federal funds, and in the delivery of federal programs and activities. On the NDEAM website, ODEP offers resources and suggests ways employers, employees, agencies, and organizations can bring awareness to and promote inclusive employment policies and practices. 

On September 29th President Biden issued a Presidential Proclamation that describes his efforts and those of his Administration to end the use of unfair subminimum wages in federal contracts, and to promote expanded competitive, integrated employment opportunities with varied initiatives being led by different federal agencies.

Two New Publications from the DIEP RRTC 

Wellbeing as Workplace Culture: A Brief Examination of one Firm’s Approach to Changing its Landscape of Wellbeing

Authors: Renée Edwards, Samantha Deane, Abigail Clemson

According to a report by Mental Health America, 71% of employees found it difficult to concentrate at work, compared with 65% in 2021 and 46% in 2018. Motivated by the need to identify best practices in addressing the growing mental health challenges facing the workforce, our partners at National Organization on Disability and Rutgers University developed a case study of how EY (Ernst & Young) created a universal design-based approach that cultivates wellbeing, improves trust in the organization and helps meet the needs of all employees.

The three key elements to the implementation of the firm’s wellbeing model were

  1. teaming natural EY communities with internal mental health clinicians to create a norm of openness and authenticity in discussing individual mental health and wellbeing concerns,
  2. the ongoing engagement of leadership as wellbeing role models, storytellers, and initiators of wellbeing dialogue, as well as the investment in creating an executive wellbeing role, and
  3. the empowerment individuals and teams to influence wellbeing norms and behaviors to fit their specific needs.

The report provides strategies for replication by other employers. 

Disability, Workplace Inclusion and Organizational Citizenship Behavior: an Exploratory Study of the Legal Profession

Researchers: Fitore Hyseni, Douglas Kruse, Lisa Schur, and Peter Blanck

The authors find that employees with disabilities in the legal profession have lower perceptions of Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB). For those of us less familiar with the term, OCB captures individual actions that promote organizational functioning such as helping colleagues, volunteering at a company event, or sharing ideas. Other research found that OCB is positively related to employee performance, productivity, and profitability. This may be an indication that employees with disabilities feel they are working in a less supportive and inclusive culture. Both lower job satisfaction and lower perceptions of OCB among workers with disabilities should be taken as challenges by organizations to improve their workplace culture so that they can take full advantage of the talents of workers with disabilities.

Public Policy Update (Contributed by APSE) 

Appropriations Updates. Congress averted a government shutdown after the House of Representatives narrowly passed a continuing resolution on September 30. However, this is a temporary solution and extends funding for only 45 days. The House and Senate still need to come to an agreement on a budget and pass a series of funding bills for the upcoming year. In order to get enough votes to pass the continuing resolution in the House, former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy brokered a deal with House Democrats. However, this angered many Republicans and resulted in an effort, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), to oust the Speaker. Despite McCarthy’s attempts to work in a bipartisan manner to keep the government funded, House Democrats ultimately joined the Republicans in voting to remove McCarthy from the Speakership. This leaves the House with the competing priority of electing a new Speaker while the clock continues to run down on the current government funding extension. Given these dynamics, it is uncertain that Congress will pass the budget appropriations legislation in time and there will be the possibility of a government shutdown in mid-November. In addition to the threat of a shutdown, the current political landscape in Congress will make it incredibly difficult to move other important legislation that would positively impact the lives of people with disabilities forward.

Proposed changes to Section 504 of the Rehab Act. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced proposed changes to Section 504 that will strengthen protections against discrimination on the basis of disability in health care and other human services programs. While the rule is not specific to employment, the proposed rule also clarifies that all services must be provided in the most integrated setting appropriate. This would be a critical advance in Employment First policy, as it extends the integration mandate resulting from the Supreme Court findings in the 1999 Olmstead v. LC case. While the Olmstead decision sets current precedent, it is merely an interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and is subject to be challenged, the proposed changes to Section 504 would codify the Court’s findings in Olmstead into law. For more information on the Section 504 proposed rulemaking, see the news brief issued by HHS.

SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act introduced. In mid-September, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act, which signifies an important step in the effort to reform the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program for the first time in over 30 years. If passed, this legislation would raise the amount of assets that SSI recipients are able to save without placing their SSI benefits in jeopardy. Currently, SSI recipients face a $2,000 asset limit ($3,000 for couples). This amount does not adjust for inflation and has been the same since 1989. The SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act will increase the asset limit to $10,000 per individual and $20,000 per couple and allows for adjustments for inflation each year. SSI provides critical supports to over 7.6 million low-income children and working-age adults with disabilities and aging adults. For more information, read the Brown press release. Representative Brian Higgins (D- NY) and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced an identical companion bill in the House of Representatives in September. For more information read the Higgins press release.

House Education & the Workforce Committee holds hearing on WIOA. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education & the Workforce convened a hearing on the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) on September 20, 2023. Enacted into law in 2014, WIOA is due for reauthorization, but efforts have stalled due to a lack of bipartisan and bicameral consensus on how to move forward. During previous attempts at reauthorization, the disability advocacy community has been vocal in opposing any reopening of WIOA that might negatively impact Title IV which is otherwise known as the Rehabilitation Act. Specifically, advocates have opposed any changes to the definition of competitive integrated employment within Title IV. Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Minority Leader Bobby Scott (D-VA) have communicated that there are currently no discussions taking place in regard to amending Title IV. The September hearing largely focused on current reporting requirements and indicators of high-quality programs under Title I. However, the hearing also included discussion around the pros and cons of limiting Federal oversight and expanding the authority of States to monitor workforce development activities. This is an issue that will need to be monitored as a lessening of Federal oversight has the potential to result in continued inconsistent and inequitable services across the states. Watch a recording of the hearing.

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DISCLAIMER The contents of this newsletter were developed under a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant number 90RTEM0006). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents of this website do not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, or HHS, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.”


About BBI

The Burton Blatt Institute (“BBI”) at Syracuse University reaches around the globe in its efforts to advance the civic, economic, and social participation of people with disabilities. Through program development, research, and public policy guidance, BBI advances the full inclusion of people with disabilities. BBI builds on the legacy of Burton Blatt, a pioneering disability rights scholar. BBI has offices in Syracuse, NY and Lexington, KY. Learn More about BBI