DISABILITIES

By Daniel J. Vance

  One way the Bush Administration wants to serve persons with disabilities is by "impress[ing] upon businesses that they have the opportunity to create meaningful jobs for all Americans with disabilities," said Dr. Roy Grizzard to me in an email. Grizzard is Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in Washington D.C.

  He added, "The word 'opportunity' has an especially important meaning for me, for I have retinitis pigmentosa, and am legally blind." Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited eye disease that destroys retina photoreceptor cells, ultimately causing vision loss and blindness.

  Dr. Grizzard has earned three degrees, served in education more than 25 years, managed a state agency, and was appointed the first Assistant Secretary on disability issues in the nation's history. He attributes much of his success in life to people who helped him focus on his abilities, not his disability. Those people offered him "opportunities," he said, and he took them.

  "The Bush Administration will continue lending support and acting as a catalyst to reduce barriers to employment for those with disabilities," he said. "But the government can't do it alone. We are looking for businesses to join with us to level the playing field for persons with disabilities."

  The federal government has several tax incentives to help employers hire persons with disabilities.

  For example, employers can take advantage of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit by hiring persons from targeted low-income groups, including persons with disabilities that have been receiving either SSI benefits or publicly funded vocational rehabilitation. The tax credit is good for up to 40 percent of the first $6,000 paid the first year in wages. In 1999 only one corporation for every 790 reported the credit.

  Small businesses under $1 million in revenue and 30 employees also can claim annually a "Disabled Access" tax credit of up to $5,000 for adaptive equipment purchases, removal of architectural barriers in buildings and vehicles, and readers or sign language interpreters for employees or customers.

  In addition, any business can claim annually a "Barrier Removal" tax deduction of up to $15,000 for expenses incurred to upgrade the workplace by providing accessible parking spaces, curb cuts, ramps, walkways, water fountains, restrooms and telephones.

  Grizzard said, "The Bush Administration has made it a priority to expand employment opportunities to persons with disabilities."

  To learn more, visit www.dol.gov or for retinitis pigmentosa, www.blindness.org.

  [Contact Mr. Vance through www.danieljvance.com]