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Serving People with Disabilities through the Workforce Investment Act's One-Stop Career Centers

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Document date: November 04, 2004
Released online: November 04, 2004

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

Executive Summary

The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 is designed to provide a streamlined system of assistance that integrates many employment and training programs through a One-Stop delivery system for employers and job seekers, including job seekers with disabilities. There are currently over 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers operating across the country. Like the Ticket to Work (TtW) program, the One-Stop system offers the promise for a new source of employment assistance to people with disabilities, including the potential for One-Stops to serve in the capacity of approved "Employment Network" (EN) providers under the TtW program.

This paper examines the extent to which people with disabilities are served through WIA's One-Stop system and discusses its capacity to serve people with disabilities who desire employment assistance, both in terms of common barriers to access as well as promising strategies to improve service delivery to people with disabilities. The main findings are as follows:

  • The WIA program enrolls a number of people with disabilities, but such individuals comprise a small proportion the customers served. In PY 2002 (July 1, 2001, through June 30, 2002), nearly 46,000 people with disabilities exited the WIA program. People with disabilities made up about 8 percent of all exiters for PY 2002. Not all the customers with disabilities had disabilities that were considered a barrier to employment; there were about 16,500 exiters in PY 2002 who had disabilities that they considered a barrier to employment.
  • The Department of Labor does not track enrollment by beneficiary status. We estimate that fewer than 2,400 exiters from the adult program in PY 2002 may have been SSI beneficiaries. The trend in services to people with disabilities is mixed. For the adult program, the total number of exiters increased each year, but the number of exiters with disabilities only increased between 2000 and 2001. Once enrolled in WIA, the services received for customers with disabilities, including those with substantial barriers to employment, are close to the figures for the overall population. Exiters with disabilities have lower employment and earnings than other customers who exit the program, but they have greater earnings changes from the pre-program period. The ability to track services to SSI and SSDI beneficiaries in WIA programs would be greatly enhanced if the Department of Labor modified its reporting system to specifically note if individuals served are beneficiaries.
  • At the same time, it is important to note that the estimated number of SSI beneficiaries is not that small in comparison the approximately 5,000 "tickets" that have been assigned thus far under the TtW program. Further research is needed to better determine what an appropriate target level should be for WIA.

Several different kinds of barriers to serving people with disabilities may help explain why their enrollment in WIA and its One-Stop Career Centers is so low:

  • Particularly during the early years of WIA, the One-Stop Career Centers where WIA services are offered were not particularly accessible to customers with disabilities. Barriers included access to the facilities, presence of appropriate hardware and software for customers with disabilities to access information on computers and in hard copies, and ignorance by One-Stop staff regarding how identify and serve customers with disabilities.
  • Upon entering a One-Stop Career Center, customers are generally expected to use the computers and printed material in a resource room on their own. It is difficult to identify people with disabilities who need special assistance or who need to be directed to special equipment, and this may discourage potential customers with disabilities from using the One-Stop Career Centers.
  • Interviews conducted for this paper indicate that prospective WIA customers at One-Stop Career Centers are often referred to VR without adequately determining if they might be better served in part or completely by WIA.
  • Many local WIA programs place time and dollar limits on training their customers can receive. Training for customers with disabilities is sometimes more expensive, and this may make it difficult to serve such customers with WIA funds.
  • State and local WIA programs are subject to performance standards relating to employment, earnings, and credentials of customers who exit the program. There are no adjustments for serving groups that face discrimination and other barriers to employment. States and local WIBs that fail to meet standards two years in a row are subject to sanctions, including loss of the right to operate the program. The literature on training programs indicates that local programs often engage in "creaming" because of the performance standards, whereby they tend to serve fewer customers with barriers, including people with disabilities.

Although there is unquestionably still room for improvement, there appears to be general consensus that the One-Stop system as a whole—often with the help of special grant funding—has made significant strides since WIA's inception in reducing barriers pertaining to physical access and inability to address special accommodation needs. There also appears to be growing recognition that the focus on accessibility for people with disabilities with respect to the One- Stop system must move beyond physical and technological access to include a broader effort to address programmatic access. Although there is no comprehensive source of information available to determine how fully programmatic accessibility has been achieved across the One-Stop system, various case studies of One-Stop Career Centers suggest that progress has been made in this area as well—although generally not as much as with improving physical and technological access.

One-Stop Career Centers have pursued several different strategies to make their physical and programmatic environment more accessible and responsive to people with disabilities. Many have taken advantage of special funding initiatives sponsored by both Department of Labor (DOL) and, more recently, by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to stimulate capacity building and systems changes for the express purpose of making the One-Stop service delivery system more accessible and responsive to the needs of people with disabilities. Of most relevance of these initiatives are the Work Incentive Grants (WIGs), the Disability Program Navigator (DPN) demonstration program, and the Customized Employment Grants (CEGs).

  • Since 2000, the DOL Employment and Training Administration, has funded four rounds of Work Incentive Grants (WIGs). In general, the first two rounds of WIG grantees focused heavily on increasing access to One-Stop Career Centers by using grant funds to purchase and install assistive technology in resource room and to train frontline staff on the use of assistive technology and virtual accessibility for people with disabilities. More recently, the focus has shifted to supporting a specialized "disability navigator" position within One-Stop Career Centers to address programmatic access and capacity issues.
  • In 2003, the DOL Employment Training Administration and the SSA Office of Program Development and Research jointly created a grant program to fund Disability Program Navigators (DPN) at WIA One-Stop Career Centers. The strategy is to place an individual at local One-Stop Career Centers to serve as an expert on workforce development issues for persons with disabilities, and facilitate access to relevant supports and services.
  • The Customized Employment Grant Program, begun by the DOL Office of Disability Employment Policy in 2001, supports local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) in a consortium or partnership of public and private entities, to build the capacity of local programs to deliver services to significantly disabled and disadvantaged individuals who are not usually targeted for services. Customized employment strategies include job carving, self-employment, supported employment, job restructuring, developing partnerships with local businesses, and assigning personal agents for customers.

Although many of the evaluations of these activities are ongoing, the studies that are available plus discussions with government officials and other experts indicate that the programs have made a discernible and positive impact on improving the capacity of the One-Stop Career Centers for serving customers with disabilities. One-Stops benefiting from these special grants, as well as other One-Stop Career Centers that have made efforts to improve their service capacity for people with disabilities, have engaged in multi-pronged strategies that include multiple and ongoing training of in-house One-Stop staff to increase awareness and knowledge of disability issues, resources, and needs; ongoing use of accessibility checklists; and greater collaboration with the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency and other disability-serving agencies in the community.

There had been hope that the One-Stop Career Centers and local WIBs would become participate in the TtW program by becoming ENs and expand their services to people with disabilities through this additional revenue source. Thus far, few One-Stop Career Centers have enrolled as ENs, and very few tickets have been assigned to One-Stop ENs, and the vast majority of tickets have been assigned to state VR agencies. Although some factors that inhibit participation are specific to the One-Stop Career Centers and WIBs, such as charters that prohibit undertaking the financial risks associated with accepting a ticket, the evaluations we reviewed and interviews with federal and state officials indicated that One-Stop Centers, like other potential ENs, generally do not participate because of factors such as high risk, low payments, and long delays in payments. Even if One-Stops largely opt not to become ENs, ticket holders can still benefit from the One-Stop Career Centers by virtue of the fact that core services are available to everyone, through collaboration and service delivery coordination between One-Stop Career Centers and their mandatory VR partners, and collaboration/coordination between One-Stop Career Centers and other ENs as well as SSA-sponsored Benefits Planning, Assistance, and Outreach offices (BPAOs) in the community.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

Topics/Tags: | Employment | Health/Healthcare | Poverty, Assets and Safety Net

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