Experts dedicated to improving employment for people with disabilities spoke at Enable America's annual Disability Employment Forum. Keynote speaker Kathy Martinez of the U.S. Labor Department says hiring people with disabilities will help the worldwide economy.
Speaking before Enable America's annual Disability Employment Forum, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, Kathy Martinez, said the nation needs to do more to improve employment among people with disabilities.
"We are too far along to say that hiring people with disabilities is the right thing to do," Martinez said in her keynote address. "It's the necessary thing to do for the growth of our economy, and especially for the growth of our global economy."
More than one hundred employers, community based organizations, veteran service providers, and people with disabilities gathered for Enable America's annual event to hear Martinez speak. She emphasized that her department is committed to improving the employment situation for people with disabilities, which is even more important because of high overall unemployment rates.
"ODEP (Office of Disability Employment Policy) is here. Use us, utilize us, we are your partner, we are your resource," Martinez said. "We're here for you, we are here for the disability community, and we are here for those who support the disability community."
Martinez used the occasion to outline a number of ODEP initiatives that are directed at the situation, including a current listening tour to gather input across the country, guidelines to improve employment prospects for youth, and an upcoming federal job expo in Washington, D.C. this April.
"We're not calling it a job fair, it's not just about handing out pamphlets," she said. "We're planning on setting ourselves apart from the traditional job fair, because participating federal agencies must provide information ahead of time on actual jobs that will be available. Job candidates will apply online for the positions that interest them, and then agencies will review the applications, and invite those candidates whose skill set fit the requirements of the job openings. Then interviews will happen on that day."
Martinez says it is crucial that the federal government take action on hiring people with disabilities, if they are to ask others to do the same.
Also speaking at the event was Enable America CEO Richard Salem. Salem founded Enable America to provide opportunities to others, just as those opportunities helped him succeed after he lost his sight as a teenager.
"You have a sense of desire, a sense of loyalty among people with disabilities that really do want to be a part of that American dream," Salem said. "If you are a service provider, if you are a person with a disability, if you're a caregiver or a business person or an elected official, help us to help ourselves."
Also speaking at the event were Dr. Susanne Homant, President and CEO of The Able Trust, and Marnie Hoover, Senior Project Manager, IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center. Dr. Homant's organization is a statewide foundation dedicated to creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Hoover works within her company to drive internal awareness and programs that make IBM an accessible workplace.
Founded by Salem in 2002, Enable America is a non-profit organization devoted to empowering people with disabilities to achieve independence through employment. Among the programs it provides is year-round disability employee mentoring. Enable America matches mentors from local companies with mentees from the community, people with disabilities or wounded veterans who often have difficulty finding work. While the experience helps those people become more employable, there is also value to the companies.
"For organizations such as ours, that have in community service and volunteerism a core part of everything we do, I think it is a privilege to have an organization such as Enable America to partner with," said Gerdau Ameristeel CEO Mario Longhi, in a video on Enable America's mentoring program that was presented at the forum. "Within our company we very clearly understand the value and the importance of diversity for the organization as a whole."
Enable America's accomplishments in 2009 include the founding of Team Enable, expansion into North Carolina and Texas, and the launch of "Disabled Veteran Employment Mentoring Month" programs in November, held in conjunction with Veterans Day. Additional program expansion is planned for 2010.
More information on Enable America can be found at the organization's web site, enableamerica.org.
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