In June 2013, Governor Bill Haslam signed Executive Order No. 28 establishing state support for the Employment First initiative and directing the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) to convene the Employment First Task Force. Vanderbilt Kennedy Center faculty and staff were among a group of key stakeholders charged with identifying the barriers to employment that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities typically face in Tennessee and with developing recommendations for eliminating those barriers.
The Task Force’s full report, Expect Employment, was presented to the Governor in September and is now available to the general public. Governor Haslam commended the work of the Task Force and expressed his commitment to seeking ways to improve the way State services coordinate and meet the employment needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The release of the report comes at a time when 75.2% of people in Tennessee without disabilities are employed, and only 28.2% of people with disabilities are working, despite a documented desire to work.
“By bringing everyone together we can work to remove any barriers to employment and use tax dollars more effectively to improve services,” said Governor Haslam. “We’re pleased to see what progress Tennessee has made in just one year when all stakeholders collaborate and bring ideas to the table.”
Indeed, collaboration is a key component to the success of the Task Force’s work. In addition to participation from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and TennesseeWorks, Task Force members represented the departments of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Labor and Workforce Development, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Education, Human Services, Bureau of TennCare, Council on Developmental Disabilities, Disability Rights Tennessee, and University of Tennessee Boling Center for Developmental Disability.
The Expect Employment report outlines seven recommendations for improving employment outcomes and continuing the work of the Task Force. They include:
- Developing a Memorandum of Understanding to improve coordination among state agencies;
- Engaging and supporting businesses who employ people with disabilities;
- Increasing internship opportunities;
- Ensuring youth transitioning out of the school system have postsecondary or job training opportunities;
- Supporting individuals with disabilities and their families by increasing their knowledge about the benefits of employment;
- Ensuring that all working-age Tennesseans with disabilities have access to needed supports enabling them to obtain and maintain employment; and
- Creating and implementing a three-year strategic workforce development plan.
“It is well established that meaningful work is the cornerstone of good physical, emotional, and behavioral health for all Americans,” DIDD Commissioner Debra Payne said. “The work that we do provides for our independence, allows us to experience a sense of pride and accomplishment, and is fundamental to our sense of contribution to our communities. The relationships we form with coworkers often provide us with lifelong friendships and support us through the trials of life. Work is true integration, and it is the expectation of all parties participating in this important endeavor that every person with a desire to experience the benefits of employment will have that opportunity.”
Vanderbilt representation on the Tennessee Employment First Task Force includes:
- Erik Carter, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Special Education and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Investigator
- Elise McMillan, J.D., Co-Director, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities
- Sarah Harvey, Program Director, TennesseeWorks, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities
- Lynnette Henderson, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Director of Adult Community Services, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities
- William McMillan, self-advocate and Next Steps at Vanderbilt graduate
Pictured above: Governor Haslam (center front) with Tennessee Employment First Task Force members