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Using the Emerging Disability Policy Framework to Create a Fully Inclusive Twenty-First Century Workforce Investment System

National Center on Workforce and Disability/Adult - White paper


On August 7, 1998, President Clinton signed into law the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-220). Title I of WIA provides assistance to states interested in establishing statewide and local workforce investment systems. Title IV of WIA sets out a complete rewrite of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, including the State Vocational Rehabilitation program (State VR program). On August 11, 2000, the Secretary of Labor published in the Federal Register (FR) final regulations implementing Title I of WIA. On November 12, 1999 the Secretary of Labor published interim final regulations implementing Section 188 of WIA pertaining to nondiscrimination and equal opportunity. On January 17, 2001, the Secretary of Education published final regulations implementing the State VR program.

The overall goal of Title I of WIA is to increase employment, retention, and earnings of persons (including persons with disabilities) participating in employment-related activities supported by an integrated workforce investment system. The establishment of a One-Stop service delivery system is the cornerstone of the legislation. The One-Stop service delivery system must be "seamless", i.e., a "one right door and no wrong door approach." [64 FR 18669 (April 15, 1999)] In addition, the One-Stop service delivery system must be designed to address the needs of all individuals, including individuals with disabilities.

In other words, the One-Stop service delivery system must be fully inclusive, incorporating universal design features. Policymakers and other stakeholders at the federal, state, and local levels involved in the design and implementation of a fully inclusive workforce investment system can benefit from an examination of the emerging disability policy framework.* The precept, goals, policies, and methods of administration adopted over time for ensuring effective and meaningful opportunity for persons with disabilities to participate in programs, projects, and activities are not limited in their applicability to persons with disabilities; rather, they reflect universal principles that can be the basis for the adoption of a fully inclusive One-Stop service delivery system for all persons eligible to receive assistance.

The purpose of this policy paper is to present the lessons learned (in narrative outline form) from the emerging disability policy framework so that policymakers and others at the federal, state, and local levels can design, implement, and evaluate a fully inclusive One-Stop service delivery system. The paper has six sections.

I. The Emerging Disability Policy Framework

How do policymakers and professionals view and treat people with disabilities?

Over the past two-and-a-half decades, Congress has made a concerted effort to articulate in legislation the precepts, goals, and major policies governing the treatment of people with disabilities (the emerging disability policy framework). In general, this framework can be used as a lens, guidepost, or benchmark to assess social policy from a disability policy perspective. This framework can also be used to design and implement a fully inclusive workforce investment system for all beneficiaries that incorporates universal design features.

II. The Old and New Paradigm of Disability Policy.

A. The Old Paradigm

Historically, policymakers and professionals treated people with disabilities as "defective" and in need of "fixing". If a professional couldn't "fix" a person with a disability, policymakers often supported exclusion, segregation, and denial of services and supports. Sometimes the exclusion or isolation was based on malevolent treatment resulting in the exclusion from public education because an individual was "defective" and "produced a nauseating effect" on others. Sometimes exclusion was based on assertions by professionals that persons with disabilities were incapable of working and therefore incapable of benefiting from job training programs, including vocational rehabilitation programs.

Sometimes generic programs used blanket exclusions or automatic referrals to other programs targeted at "the disabled". Sometimes segregation and exclusion was benevolent--persons with disabilities were automatically placed in "sheltered workshops" because of the false assumption that all persons with significant disabilities required segregated placements in "safe and supportive" environments.

Justice Thurgood Marshall characterized our nation's treatment of persons with developmental disabilities as "grotesque".

B. The New Paradigm (Precept of Disability Policy)

The new paradigm of disability policy fundamentally rejects the old paradigm. The new paradigm is based on the precept that diversity is a reality and is good--disability, like race and gender is a natural and normal part of the human experience that in no way diminishes a person's right to fully participate in all aspects of society. When a system is designed to be accessible by all, "all" truly means "all". The focus of the new paradigm is on fixing the physical and social environment to provide effective and meaningful opportunity for all (not just the average person).

III. The Goals of Disability Policy

  • Equality of Opportunity
  • Full Participation
  • Community/Independent Living
  • Economic Self-Sufficiency

IV. The Core Policies

A. Equality of Opportunity

  • Individualization--Make decisions affecting an individual based on facts, objective evidence, state-of-the-art science, and a person's needs and preferences, not based on administrative convenience and generalizations, stereotypes, fear, and ignorance.
  • Effective and Meaningful Opportunity--Focus on meeting the needs of all persons who qualify for services and supports, not just the "average" person, by providing reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures.
  • Inclusion and Integration--Administer programs in the most integrated setting appropriate for the individual (i.e., the presumption is that a person who qualifies for a public program must receive services in an inclusive setting with necessary support services, and the burden of proof is on the government agency to demonstrate why inclusion is not appropriate to meet the unique needs of the individual) and administer programs to avoid unnecessary and unjustified isolation and segregation (i.e., do not make a person give up his/her right to interact with nondisabled persons in order to receive the services and supports).

B. Full Participation

  • Provide for active and meaningful involvement of persons with disabilities and their families in decisions affecting them specifically as well as in the development of policies of general applicability, i.e., at the systems/institutional level. ("Nothing about us without us.")
  • his means that policies, practices, and procedures must provide for real, informed choice; self-determination and empowerment; self-advocacy; and person-centered planning and budgeting.

C. Community/Independent Living

  • Recognize community/independent living as a legitimate outcome of public policy.
  • Provide for community/independent living skills development.
  • Provide necessary long-term services and supports such as assistive technology devices and services and personal assistance services and supports.
  • Provide cash assistance.

D. Economic Self-Sufficiency

  • Recognize economic self-sufficiency as a legitimate outcome of public policy.
  • Support systems providing employment-related services and supports.
  • Provide cash assistance with work incentives.

V. The Methods of Administration Supporting A Fully Inclusive Workforce Investment System

A. In General:

- Public agencies must adopt criteria and methods of administration that facilitate and do not impede accomplishment of the precept, goals, and policies of the government agency's program, consistent with the lessons learned from the emerging disability policy framework.

- Public agencies must establish an infrastructure (that includes elements supporting systems change) that facilitates and does not impede accomplishment of the precept, goals, and policies of the public agency's program, consistent with the lessons learned from the emerging disability policy framework.

B. State and Local Plans, in General: In developing a fully inclusive, comprehensive, person-centered workforce investment system based on universal design features, stakeholders must:

- Review historical context, including the extent to which programs were established based on old paradigms.

- Conduct a needs assessment, including

  • The multiplicity of needs of individuals related to employment, including job training and vocational rehabilitation, health care, personal assistance services and assistive technology, income supports, education, housing, and transportation.
  • The extent to which implementation of current programs is based on the old paradigm.
  • An inventory of existing programs, services, and supports.
  • The prevalence of the population in need and their preferences.
  • The services and supports to address the needs of eligible individuals.

- Articulate the components of a strategic plan, including:

  • The goals (one system with distinct programs that are integral components of the system)
  • The measurable objectives
  • The specific action steps (including specific timetables and responsible individuals or agencies)
  • The processes for continuous quality performance and improvement, and
  • The budgets.

- Provide for meaningful, ongoing involvement of stakeholders in the design, implementation, and evaluation of the program.

C. Program Design Elements--Include person-centered planning and budgeting and consumer-controlled community-based services and supports.

D. Counseling, Including Benefits Counseling--Take steps to provide counseling, including benefits counseling, that focuses on maximizing choice, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency consistent with the interests, preferences, and capabilities of the individual.

E. Outcome Performance Measures--Include outcome performance measures that reflect high expectations and that facilitate and do not impede serving persons with the most significant needs.

F. Financing Systems--Ensure that the system for financing the services and supports facilitates the precept, goals, and policies of the emerging disability policy framework. Take advantage of existing funding sources, particularly federal funding sources and waivers.

G. Reimbursement Schemes--Provide for risk adjustment for serving those with significant barriers to employment requiring more intensive, ongoing services and supports (preclude creaming).

H. Interagency Collaboration--Ensure that the system is person-centered and not segmented based on the jurisdiction of various agencies (silos). Establish a seamless system--no wrong door with no buck passing. All partners are at the table. Roles performed include advocacy, sharing of experiences and expertise, and cross training. Systems integration includes memoranda of understanding, including cost sharing and cost allocation, and an effectively functioning information and referral system.

I. Adequacy of the Network of Qualified Providers--Ensure that qualified personnel provide a range of necessary supports and services.

J. Training of Personnel--Ensure that personnel function consistent with the new paradigm (high expectations) and use state-of-the-art promising practices, including knowledge of the range of available services, supports, and technology.

K. Information and Data Collection System--Provide necessary data and information for public agencies to provide for continuous quality improvement and necessary information for the legislative branch to carry out its funding and oversight responsibilities, including disaggregation of data for subgroups, e.g., persons with disabilities.

L. Outreach, Information Dissemination, and Technical Assistance to and Representation of Potential Beneficiaries--Ensure that intended beneficiaries understand their rights and responsibilities and can exercise these rights through the provision of assistance by others.

M. Procedural Safeguards--Provide for, among other things, notice, access to records, and a complaint resolution process (including due process hearing and right to appeal) for individuals to supplement the monitoring and enforcement by government agency personnel.

N. Monitoring and Enforcement--Include a process for government agencies to review policies, practices, and procedures and actual implementation and the ability to respond to findings in a timely and effective manner.

O. Systems Change and Research--Support ongoing systems change and research to ensure that the system is inclusive and based on the principles of universal design, and that services and supports remain state-of-the-art.

VI. The Translation from Policy to Practice: Some Next Steps

The materials presented in the previous sections outline for the reader a rationale for establishing a fully inclusive workforce investment system for the twenty-first century borrowing from the lessons learned from the emerging disability policy framework. The reader is also offered core policies to assist in the shaping of a fully inclusive system. Finally, the creation of any system calls for the monitoring and evaluation of the approaches and outcomes of the system.

In this final section, we offer key stakeholders at the federal, state, and local levels suggestions on how to use the emerging disability policy framework as a tool to help design approaches for translating policy to practice so that workforce investment systems are truly inclusive.

A. Federal Level

Federal agencies play a key role in offering guidance and assistance to state and local stakeholders in the form of policy interpretation of what is meant in legislation and regulations. The need to clarify inconsistencies across the myriad regulations is apparent if we are to develop a workforce investment system that addresses the needs of all job seekers and other stakeholders. Reviews of policies, analysis of model demonstration projects, the sharing of promising practices, and the support of innovation at the state level are all activities that the federal government can embrace in the development of a comprehensive and coordinated fully inclusive approach to workforce development. Consistency in materials development and dissemination, clear guidance, and technical assistance in program development will facilitate the state and local entities' completing their portion of this system. A shared planning effort is an effective way in identifying strategies that can support an inclusive workforce investment system.

B. State Level

State agencies can facilitate creation of a fully inclusive workforce investment system through the clear communication of priorities, a consistent message of inclusive planning and program delivery at the service level (regional and local), and the development of reports that support and foster replication of innovation. At the state level, the development of shared policies and practices can greatly enhance the establishment of an inclusive local delivery system. Cross-agency planning around issues of management, cost sharing, eligibility, outcome measures, and monitoring can lead to a more streamlined employment and training system at the local level.

C. Local Level

Local agencies are charged with taking the policies and directives from the federal and state agencies and translating them into practice. The need to ensure that the system responds to all customers as well as to employers is essential. The methods of delivering services should reflect the values and principles articulated in Section IV and the methods of administration outlined in Section V.B above. The translation of policy to practice at the local level is critical. The design of a system that is universal, person- centered and accountable to the individual will require that there be active planning from the key stakeholders. The impact of the system will be demonstrated by the successes realized by the users of this system, including job seekers with disabilities, and employers in need of workers.

Written by:

Robert Silverstein