In many communities across the country, the state government is the largest employer, paying competitive wages and providing benefits to people in a range of positions, from entry-level to highly specialized. Recognizing the importance of a workforce that reflects the diversity of the citizens they serve, many state governments have adopted multifaceted approaches to supporting the recruitment, hiring, retention and advancement of individuals with disabilities. EARN, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy’s State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED), is working to support these initiatives, often called States as Model Employer (SAME) policies.
SEED is a collaboration with state intermediary organizations, including the Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs (BHCC), Council of State Governments (CSG), National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), National Governors Association (NGA) and Women in Government (WIG), to assist states in fostering employment success for people with disabilities through meaningful policies that promote disability-inclusive workforce development. Working directly with these organizations, SEED equips states with timely data, sample policy options and technical assistance to help ensure that state–level policy that is critical to employment success—such as workforce development, economic opportunity, transportation and technology—is inclusive of people with disabilities.
Since its inception in 2015, SEED has engaged state legislators, governors’ offices and agency leadership from 47 states and the District of Columbia, identifying more than 300 state legislative and executive level champions. SEED has provided direct policy assistance to 36 states to enact more than 150 new laws and executive orders that align with SEED policy options, including the establishment of a cabinet-level statewide task force. These state policy options range from examining state disability employment policies, to improving transportation access for job seekers with disabilities, to providing incentives for the private sector to employ people with disabilities.
In 2016, SEED collaborated with NCSL and CSG to convene a year-long joint task force of state policymakers to address barriers to employment and develop policy solutions to build disability inclusive state workforces. Through the work of the task force, state legislators, legislative staff and state executive branch representatives explored the causes of these barriers and devised bipartisan policy options to support increased employment access and opportunities for people with disabilities. The result was “Work Matters: A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities,” a report that offers state legislators 13 broad policy options, as well as real-life examples of innovative programs and policies that states have successfully used to build strong, inclusive workforces.
Among the policy options, the “Work Matters” report identified stay-at-work/return-to-work (SAW/RTW) as a critical priority area. In response, SEED and CSG developed the “Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work State Policy Toolkit” with input from state leaders, subject matter experts and local government representatives. The toolkit provides states with policy options, best practices and implementation strategies to increase retention of employees who become ill or injured.
SEED’s work with NCSL has also included the development of additional tools and resources for state legislators, such as:
- Disability Employment State Statute and Legislation Scan
- Disability Employment Database
- NCSL LegisBrief – State Policy Options for Employing People with Disabilities
SEED also collaborates with NGA to support States as Model Employer efforts. In 2019, SEED and NGA hosted a Governors Learning Lab on “Building an Inclusive Talent Pipeline for People with Disabilities.” State teams from Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Indiana and Maryland were selected to attended workshops to learn about strategies that help ensure state workforce development and employment policies are inclusive. As part of this effort, state teams developed short-term and long-term action steps to further expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
EARN previously collaborated with NGA to plan and host stakeholder roundtables, one-on-one meetings, conference sessions and state institutes, as well as conduct an extensive literature review on disability employment. These efforts resulted in the development of “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities: A Blueprint for Governors,” a policy framework released in 2013.
For more information about States as Model Employers, read EARN’s “A Joint Resolution or Executive Order to Encourage States to be Model Employers of People with Disabilities” a how-to guide for state governments interested in implementing initiatives to increase the employment of people with disabilities.
In addition to States as Model Employer initiatives, some states have policies that encourage or require their contractors to take steps to increase disability inclusion among their workforces as a condition of doing business with the state government. In many cases, these policies are akin to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits employers with federal contracts from discriminating against qualified applicants and employees with disabilities, and requires affirmative steps to recruit, hire, retain and promote them. More information about state employer tax incentives, such as tax credits for barrier removal and employment supports, as well as state financial incentives to establish stay-at-work/return-to-work programs, can be found on EARN’s Employer Financial Incentives page.