AVON PARK — The U.S. Department of Labor has selected five National Provider Organizations (NPOs) to participate in its National Expansion of Employment Opportunities Network (NEON) initiative to increase competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities. Among the five, The Arc of the United States based in Washington, D.C., the nation’s largest community-based organization of and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, was selected.
The Arc of the United States chose Ridge Area Arc as a Local Provider Organization (LPO) to develop organizational action plans for increasing competitive integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Highlands County.
“Statistics consistently show that people with disabilities are less likely to be employed and even less likely to be offered full-time employment,” said Kathleen Border, Arc’s chief executive officer. “Our supported employment coaches work daily to match people with jobs and to help employers make accommodations and see the value in employees with disabilities but there is so much more work to be done. Being part of the NEON project is so exciting to us because it allows us to build important partnerships in the community to tackle unemployment issues for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Competitive integrated employment is work for people with disabilities, in typical community settings, where most employees do not have disabilities, and where the employer pays its employees directly at minimum or prevailing wages – whichever is greater.
“Partnership with provider networks is essential to promoting positive change,” said Jennifer Sheehy, Office of Disability Employment Policy deputy assistant secretary. “The National Expansion of Employment Opportunities Network initiative will help us better understand the barriers and, most importantly, solutions to increase competitive integrated employment for individuals with significant disabilities.”
Ridge Area Arc’s Supported Employment staff will receive intensive policy consulting; technical support; and peer mentoring to strengthen their service provider network’s capacity to help workers with disabilities prepare for and obtain competitive integrated employment. Ultimately, NEON will empower Ridge Area Arc’s Supported Employment program to develop a strategic plan to increase competitive integrated employment from the service providers’ perspective.
“We have some great partnerships in the community like the Highlands County School Board and Vocational Rehabilitation, that are working toward making people with disabilities as independent as possible, and on the other hand we have employers, like Publix and Home Depot and others, who value all employees and gladly hire people with disabilities. The NEON project will bring our collective heads together to get people with disabilities who really want to work, into great jobs.”
Ridge Area Arc Employment Services provides for job placement, work experience opportunities, employability skills training, job coaching and follow-along service, as needed to qualified individuals. All job seekers go through a screening process to determine their interests, skills, and abilities and Arc matches those to the job most suited to them. The program is partially supported through a grant by the United Way of Central Florida.
Ultimately, NEON will empower Ridge Area Arc’s Supported Employment program to develop a strategic plan to increase competitive integrated employment from the service providers’ perspective.
For information on Arc’s Employment Services, call 863-452-1295, ext. 116.