NCDHHS awarded $13.8 million to expand employment for people with disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration has awarded the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Vocational Rehabilitation Services Division more than $13.8 million to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to access competitive integrated employment.

North Carolina is one of 14 states receiving funds from the $177 million grant. The five-year grants are for Sub-Competitive Integrated Wage (SWTCIE) Demonstration Projects.

The SWTCIE program aims to enhance career opportunities and economic security for Americans with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The grant will extend support to 500 people in North Carolina, 300 of whom will transition from below-minimum wage metrics to competitive embedded employment.

The North Carolina project will include three regional pilot sites that will target growing employment sectors such as green jobs, essential workers, and travel and hospitality.

Kathie Trotter, director of the NCDHHS Vocational Rehabilitation Services Division, said the three pilot programs will serve as employment training centers with services such as case management, benefits counseling, employment specialists and employment coaches available to participants.

“We will focus (regional pilots) on providers who are serious about making the transition and improving their services to provide more choice and opportunity,” said Chris Egan, NCDHHS assistant secretary for jobs and inclusion.

While many employers may be willing to hire people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, the lack of intermediary support can make it difficult to build the relationships and support networks necessary for those seeking employment.

“It’s not a disdain or a negative feeling to hire a person with a disability, but rather a lack of understanding of that person’s individual needs and not knowing how to support them,” Melinda Plue, Director of Advocacy and Development chapters at The Arc of North Carolina, said.

Advocacy and service groups, including The Arc of NC, work to educate and build working relationships between employers and potential employees with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Plue said employment services such as job coaching can provide the guidance these people need to function independently in the workplace.

B3 Coffee is a coffee kiosk integrated into the Chapel Hill Public Library.

B3 Coffee aims to dismantle workplace stigmas and hierarchies in integrated employment environments while providing professional support and resources to its employees with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“It’s hard to access services that should be the way to get your foot in the door because there’s a huge fear factor when it comes to people with disabilities,” said Jacklyn Boheler, co-founder and executive director of B3. Coffee. “We really need this intermediary agency to be able to educate employers and eliminate stigma while providing resources.”

These services can be scarce and difficult to access, Boheler said. She added that wait lists for programs like the NC Medicaid Innovations Waiver often reach about 15,000 people.

She explained that there are service cliffs, which result from a lack of continued support for employment, higher education, or daily living for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities after graduating from high school. ‘secondary studies.

“Unfortunately, this often leads to marginalization and an overall reduced quality of life,” Bohler said.

The grant to the DVRS aims to address that cliff by providing funding for support services across the state, according to Trotter.

Egan said the programs are part of an evolution to put the decision in the hands of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities to navigate their own careers.

“We want to provide these extended support services,” Trotter said. “We want to make sure all the pieces are there to be able to fully support people who may have significant barriers in their pursuit of competitive embedded employment.”

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