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David Fazio

Harmony at Work

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Including Entrepreneurs of all Abilities - U.S. Policies and Programs

The solution to an under-performing economy is simple: add pro-inclusive government policies to inclusive commerce and you get harmony that works.


The United States can only thrive when there is harmony at work driving state and local level economies. This means using the country’s pro-inclusive government policies to support entrepreneurs with disabilities to revolutionize business enterprise and facilitate inclusive commerce.


The United States has had these pro-inclusive policies in effect since 1998 when President Bill Clinton signed the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) into law. Major companies are beginning to realize the importance of inclusive commerce. VPs of AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Google, and Panasonic announced their inclusive engineering initiatives specifically for the disability market at the 2012 World Institute on Disability Policy Summit in Berkeley, California. Their motivation was not because of any law, obligation, or civic duty, but because we – the community of persons with disabilities - are a largely untapped consumer base. 


Image: Diagram showing percentage of world population living with disabilities    Image: Graphic showing percentage break-up of discretionary income of Americans living with disabilities


Image: (left) Graphic showing percentage of the world population living with disabilities; (right) Chart showing the discretionary income of Americans living with disabilities in the United States 


The purpose of the WIA was to establish programs to prepare youth and unskilled adults for entry into the labor force and to afford job training to those economically disadvantaged individuals and others who face barriers to employment and are in need of training. Title I of the Act stretches even further. It requires the workforce investment system to make entrepreneurial opportunities available for disabled consumers of State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services. It is called self-employment.


Under this provision, State VR systems must assist recipients of services to establish, own and operate a for-profit small business. This includes assessments, technical assistance, and training. These VR services fund one-time costs to establish the proposed small business. The one-time, initial costs of establishing the small business are limited to such costs that are appropriate and necessary to assist the individual to achieve the self-employment setting, and are consistent with the usual and customary initial costs typically required for establishing similar small businesses, including: occupational license fees, tools or other equipment in quantities consistent with the initial cost of establishing similar small businesses, initial stock and supplies necessary for a period not to exceed six months, and initial deposits required for rental agreements or utility service.


This workforce investment system was created in every state and was designed to increase employment, retention, earnings, and occupational skills that improve the quality of the workforce, reduce welfare dependency, and enhance the productivity and competitiveness of U.S. citizens.


On March 23, 2010 the National Council on Disability (NCD) reported to President Obama that Congress should require all VR state plans to document policies and practices to advance self-employment and report annually as to expenditures made to support this goal as well as on collaboration and results with Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). The Council expressed concern because Title V of the WIA recognizes and emphasizes self-employment as an employment outcome for clients in the VR system. For an individual to be successful in pursuing and maintaining self-employment, it is critical that both business professionals and disability service providers work as a collaborative team. Disability service providers are not collaborating effectively with the business community. To address this concern, rehabilitation and social service agencies need to implement strategies and establish partnerships with public and private sector agencies to advance self-employment.


NCD reiterates that to truly evaluate an individual's potential for success in self-employment, DOR must assess the client's personal abilities, strengths and weaknesses in business expertise, and feasibility of the proposed business, and not focus on the individual’s disability. The State of California contains the largest population of individuals with disabilities and administers the largest Vocational Rehabilitation Program in the U.S. While these pro-inclusive government programs and policies exist, the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) is not utilizing them to stimulate the economy with inclusive commerce. California makes its determination to allow DOR clients to pursue self-employment solely on the basis of the client's functional limitations and not on the basis of good business planning and other factors.


The philosophy continues to be that those who require supports are incapable of making informed decisions regarding the running of a business. This underlying assumption has been one of the major barriers to the success of individuals with disabilities in self-employment. Historically, individuals with disabilities who choose self-employment as their path to financial independence and self-sufficiency have been underserved by the social service agencies that serve individuals with disabilities. Forbes Magazine reports that California is holding back the United States. In order to fix the country “we must first fix the states”. California’s economy is a giant melting pot of regions and industries. The State has massive potential for economic development. California’s universities are amongst the elite churning out the best and the brightest in every industry. The State is at the cutting edge of technology with Apple, Intel, Oracle, Google, and Facebook all calling California home.


Silicon Valley is still a catalyst for job creation with millions of potential jobs looming amongst our fresh young talent and innovative ideas. The central valley is ripe and bolstering in agricultural output. San Diego is still the epicenter of the bio-technology craze. Forbes notes that California has lived through a magnified version of the U.S. cyclical recession of 2008 but has failed to adequately recover. California’s economic problems are structural rather than cyclical. Despite California’s abundant resources, 48 states have lower unemployment rates. Comcast and Google announced the establishment of their inclusive engineering “Think Tanks” in Sunnyvale, California at the 2012 WID Policy Summit. These facilities exist to design products and services with the sole purpose of creating livable solutions for the disability community that further include us in with the rest of the world. The collaborative opportunity has been presented here. “Silicon Savannah” proves that there is an extraordinary economic impact when a pro-inclusive government supports entrepreneurs of all abilities to facilitate inclusive commerce.


Harmony must be put to work to allow entrepreneurs of all abilities to collaborate in these inclusive initiatives. Only business enterprises led by individuals with disabilities can incorporate the inclusive elements needed in our economy to facilitate inclusive commerce. Entrepreneurs of all abilities + inclusive commerce = economic boom! California must use these pro-inclusive government policies to employ harmony at work and allow individuals with disabilities to participate in business enterprise.



Related Resource


Related News: Labor Department Opens Free-to-Use Database of 3,000 Candidates with Disabilities | Read further.


Related Blog: Harmony at Work: Entrepreneurs of all Abilities + Inclusive Commerce = Economic Boom! | Read David Fazio's blog.


Related Publication: CRPD 2012 ICT Accessibility Progress Report | Download Free PDF.


Related Event: ATIA 2013 Orlando - Assistive Technology Industry Association Annual Conference | View event agenda.


Related Items:

• Delivering Inclusive Access for Disablied or Elderly Members


• Opinion: Building a More Inclusive Work Force

• Empowering a Global Workforce of People with Disabilities

• UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Address

• 2012 Disability and Work: Global Strategies for Equity Conference, Montreal, Canada

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