Within the increasingly complex global economy, workforce development is a critical issue affecting states. States and localities play a vital role in building a strong, inclusive workforce to ensure the nation’s labor force can respond to global challenges, remain competitive and leverage the skills and talents of all constituents, including individuals with disabilities. In that spirit, it’s critical for policymakers to create accessible and inclusive environments that foster skill and educational development.
The State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED) is a unique state-federal collaboration that promotes the widespread adoption of disability employment policies through an innovative model built upon partnerships with organizations that represent state and local legislative and administrative bodies. Launched by the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), SEED helps state and local governments develop and implement policies and best practices that lead to increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
In 2015, Concepts was chosen to lead the newly conceived initiative to support ODEP’s goal of promoting disability employment policy for use by states. In a very short period, Concepts assembled a highly effective team of state and local intermediary partners that has generated significant results and successfully established a reliable process—and replicable model—for the development and dissemination of policy options. Together, the team has been instrumental in facilitating the adoption of disability inclusive policies by supporting states’ and localities’ needs through offering testimony and subject matter expertise; state priority mapping, data collection and policy; and policy development and implementation support. In 2020, Concepts supports partnerships and collaborations with 19 state and local intermediary organizations that reach more than 7,383 state legislators, 50 governors, 50 lieutenant governors, 1,400 mayors and 3,069 county governments.
Through the SEED collaborative, Concepts and its partners help state and local governments develop and implement meaningful policies and best practices that lead to increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities and, by extension, a stronger, more inclusive workforce and economy.
Early in the initiative, the SEED team recognized the need among state policymakers for a comprehensive framework of model policies and best practices that embody disability inclusion in employment and related arenas, and that can be customized to states’ own unique needs.
With this in mind, Concepts, in collaboration with its intermediary partners the Council of State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislatures, launched the National Task Force on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities, comprised of more than 60 state policymakers, subject matter experts, advisors and USDOL/ODEP staff. This National Task Force effort provided the opportunity for state leaders to identify barriers to employment for people with disabilities and explore policy options to address these barriers in order to increase the workforce.
The National Task Force oversaw the work of four subcommittees, each focusing on a policy area impacting the employment of people with disabilities: 1) Career Readiness & Employability; 2) Hiring, Retention & Reentry; 3) Entrepreneurship, Tax Incentives & Procurement; and 4) Transportation, Technology & Other Employment Supports.
The convening of the Task Force resulted in Work Matters: A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities, a culmination of intensive deliberation and research that offers states 13 broad policy options and 48 suggested strategies, as well as more than 240 examples of innovative, successfully-implemented, state-level programs and policies to build strong, inclusive workforces. Work Matters represents a commitment from the National Task Force to develop bi-partisan and state-driven policy options that are actionable and have broad appeal to a wide number of stakeholders, all with an exceptional degree of customizability in considering disabilities employment policies.
Work Matters serves as the foundation for all policy assistance provided to the states through SEED. Each year, Concepts and its partners update Work Matters with new state examples and policies that are posted online and shared with states via other communications tools.
SEED’s collaborative framework and ongoing education and awareness campaign has resulted in the engagement of 49 states and three territories and enactment of more than 350 new laws and executive orders that align with policy options in SEED resources. The results are the implementation of state-level policies and practices that are creating economic opportunities, generating income and promoting upward mobility for people with disabilities across the nation.