DISABILITIES

By Daniel J. Vance


  I've written about Dr. Roy Grizzard. He's Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in the Bush Administration, and the nation's first-ever Assistant Secretary for disability issues.

  Grizzard has a disability: retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited eye disease that causes degeneration of rod and cone cells, which leads to severe peripheral vision loss.

  For National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October), Grizzard shared his knowledge with me of two little-known federal programs that lately have been helping a great number of persons with disabilities succeed in the workplace.

 The first is the Employer Assistance Referral Network (EARN), begun 2001, which is a nationwide, cost-free referral and technical assistance service that helps employers locate and recruit qualified workers with disabilities.

  "I liken EARN to a matchmaker," said Grizzard, "EARN is comprised of approximately 50,000 employment service providers matching up with about 50,000 potential employers of people with disabilities. It acts as a clearinghouse to provide information relative to skills and personal information. It's regionalized, and it's for persons with disabilities."

  The second is the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP). "Last year ODEP recruited at 186 colleges and universities in order to identify [accomplished] college students with disabilities," said Grizzard. "From our visits we developed a CD-ROM file of 1,500 students and their qualifications and made it available to private companies and federal agencies for hiring. This file contains the cream of the crop of students with disabilities, and they have been identified, screened and are ready."

  Through WRP, this summer alone 325 of these college students were placed in an internship employment program with private industry and federal government employers.

  Grizzard believes WRP has been critical to the success of many college students with disabilities because it gives them opportunities to learn the "soft skills" of employment, such as teamwork, networking and interpersonal skills. College students with disabilities often have fewer opportunities to learn these skills because many can't be on sports teams, or involved in Greek life, extracurricular activities or employment due to accessibility or transportation issues.

  "WRP also adds to a person's resume for when a job opportunity comes along," said Grizzard. "WRP interns have been retained as full-time employees by their employers."

  Employers can learn more at 866-EARN-NOW or www.earnworks.com. As for WRP, employers can order a free CD-ROM at www.wrpjobs.org. College career counselors can request a WRP recruitment trip off the website. Also see www.danieljvance.com.