Program aids to increase employment for disabled

Joe Barela

Colorado will join a growing number of states participating in a program to help people with disabilities obtain employment, the state labor and employment department announced.

The Employment First initiative promotes competitive, integrated employment as the first choice for people regardless of the levels of their disabilities.

“Our Division of Vocational Rehabilitation will be a key player at every step in the Employment First program,” said Joe Barela, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

“But success won’t be achieved by one agency. It will demand a coordinated effort of several agencies and more than one level of government.  The Employment First approach is a framework aimed at encouraging a more crosscut and integrated approach to getting people with disabilities into employment and self-sufficiency. We’re excited about the work ahead.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2018, the proportion of the disabled population that was employed was 19.1 percent. In contrast, the employment to population ratio for those without disabilities was 65.9 percent.

In February, the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado Legislature earmarked three years of funding to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to implement key Employment First strategies.

Among the strategies was the creation of an Office of Employment First that will serve a center of excellence and accountability for Employment First policies, practices and implementation.  With its establishment, Colorado now receives technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy and no-cost consultation from a network of national experts.

The goal is for Colorado to be recognized as a model employer by hiring more people with disabilities. The action is designed to encourage more private sector employers to invest in diversity as a business asset.

As the program grows and expands, it will require flexibility to meet increased capacity needs. A website will be developed to increase outreach, information and training resources for families and individuals must be designed and implemented and sustainable funding is necessary to ensure Employment First initiatives result in job gains.