Whatever It Takes:
Policy and Systemic Influence
Grant number, name, and location: Whatever It Takes, Hempstead NY, E-9-4-2-0097
Grant recipient: Town of Hempstead Workforce Investment Board
Project lead: Abilities, Inc., Albertson, NY
Partners: Hempstead Workforce Investment Board; Department of Occupational Resources; Abilities, Inc. at the National Center for Disability Services; NYS Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities; Nassau County Board of Cooperative Education Services; Education Assistance Corporation; Drake Beam Morin, Inc. (outplacement consulting and career transition services); Goodwill Industries; Economic Opportunity Commission; National Council on Aging; and other mandated partners
The New York Customized Employment project enhanced the capacity of the HempsteadWorks One-Stop Career Center to provide seamless and quality employment services for people with significant disabilities. Called the Whatever It Takes (WIT) project, this initiative evolved from the town of Hempstead Workforce Investment Board's quality assurance program for the local One-Stop system. The project aimed to increase access to and use of the HempsteadWorks system by individuals with disabilities through system enhancements, increased funding, and efficient leveraging of resources. Employment services were provided at the HempsteadWorks Career Center in Hempstead, NY and at Abilities, Inc. at the National Center for Disability Services in Albertson. The project established a comprehensive model of service delivery by providing Customized Employment services and implementing universal design strategies.
- Higher expectations and accountability of WIA vendors can be promoted through RFP contract language that communicates that customizing services and using the tools of Customized Employment are an expected part of service provision.
- Proactive planning to promote universal design and access can facilitate the use of services by customers with diverse abilities.
Universal Access to the System
Through trainings and webcasts provided through the National Center on Workforce and Disability/Adult, HempsteadWorks recognized the value of applying Universal Strategies to meet the needs of its diverse customer base. Universal Strategies are approaches to providing the range of workforce services in a way that allows individuals to access them regardless of learning styles or abilities. Rather than focusing on specialized populations, the goal is to provide the best services for all customers.
One step toward implementing universal access to HempsteadWorks programs and services was the development of a PowerPoint orientation on "Information Exchange." The HempsteadWorks Information Exchange was shown to all new customers during the orientation process. The presentation included information on the array of employment services available, including those specific to customers with disabilities; issues surrounding disclosure of a disability; HempsteadWorks's confidentiality policy; and the availability of assistive technology at the One-Stop. Providing information in various formats fostered understanding of the content by a variety of people, whether they had, for example, a learning disability, English as a second language, or low literacy level.
The WIT project also promoted universal access to the system through enhanced technology and site modifications. For example, the system made more assistive technology available at their resource room workstations. Access to the facility was increased by installing an electronic eye in the elevator, an eye communicator at the workstation, and additional accessible parking spots. Furthermore, as a result of an increase in the number of job seekers with disabilities seeking employment services through the One-Stop, more accommodations were provided to job seekers. In an effort to broaden employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, HempsteadWorks began the process of registering to use the federal Video Relay Service. This service, which provides American Sign Language users with a video interpreter for telephone communication, is available for deaf customers.
Workforce Investment Board Contracts
The Workforce Investment Board recognized the usefulness and universal application of Customized Employment strategies--not just for customers with disabilities but for all customers with barriers to employment--and made a commitment to having these services available. To accomplish this, the One-Stop operator, the Hempstead Department of Occupational Resources (DOOR), integrated the concept of Customized Employment into its Request for Proposals for WIA vendor services. Applicants had to demonstrate understanding of CE concepts and strategies within their proposals. Additionally, One-Stop Memoranda of Agreement with partners provided a framework for how customized services were provided to HempsteadWorks customers. This more thoughtful development of the memoranda not only fulfilled its requirement but established a working document that was helpful to staff as well.
Adopting these strategies as alternatives to the more standardized services of the system, such as assessment and job matching procedures, allowed HempsteadWorks to better meet the needs of job seekers with barriers to employment. Similarly, Abilities, Inc., a community rehabilitation provider, became a formal WIA training vendor. This expanded training options for all customers with diverse learning styles by offering a less academic approach to skills training. The vendor status offered additional training opportunities for persons with disabilities through financial support of Individual Training Accounts. Implementing these strategies represented a bold step forward in efforts to meet the workforce needs of the community, its businesses, and its diverse constituents.
Most recently, DOOR proposed to contract with the Department of Social Services to establish the TANF employment project, a full-service system designed to transition TANF recipients into the labor force and equip them with the skills and credentials required to retain employment. To accomplish this, the department planned to use Customized Employment techniques and Universal Strategies to best meet the needs of this population. The application described Customized Employment as strategies to negotiate with employers to conduct "job carving" to fit individuals with disabilities into occupational niches by reorganizing work in a manner that benefits both the employer and the job seeker (see RFP).
Quality Assurance Program
The HempsteadWorks Quality Assurance Program (HWQAP) electronically integrated the local workforce investment system's partners, vendors, and other stakeholders. The program empowered them to provide the highest quality of services, improve continually, apply creative management strategies, and maintain good stewardship of funding. HWQAP addressed the issue of establishing, maintaining, and improving a computerized data collection and reporting system to facilitate fact-based decision-making and quality management. This data tracking system was highlighted on the state Department of Labor website at www.labor.state.ny.us/workforcenypartners/promisingpractices/hempsteadquality.htm.
The WIT project was part of this transformation to a quality management culture (see Customer Satisfaction Survey Outcomes). Using the HWQAP, the WIB conducted surveys, analyzed data related to customers with disabilities, and provided this information to the WIT strategic planning team. The team then integrated this data into their decision-making processes related to outreach, services, and enhancing customer satisfaction. For example, one of the goals of the project was to increase the number of job seekers with disabilities served through the system. Within only the first nine months of the project, the number of individuals with disabilities who utilized the system increased 37.4% from the previous nine-month period. The number of job seekers with disabilities who entered employment through the system increased 14.3% during that same period. After that point, the number of individuals with disabilities served by HempsteadWorks increased steadily throughout the life of the Customized Employment project. These job seekers were integrated into this customer-driven, continuous improvement environment.