White House: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy today announced a total of $8,422,574 in continued funding for organizations that develop models, provide technical assistance and share best practices to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
“Individuals with disabilities have skills and experiences that employers need,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez (White House). “These federal grants will help connect these workers with employers and put them on the path to economic self-sufficiency.”
What’s this mean for those with autism? That we will need to closely advocate now more than ever as the first wave of those diagnosed during the autism epidemic are graduating and transitioning into the ‘real world’. As most parents will tell you, “Unfortunately, once someone with autism turns 21, “they fall off a cliff,” says Lorri Unumb, vice president of state government affairs at Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization. “It’s the next big frontier that’s got to be addressed.”
While parents are exhausted from advocating for the past 18 years of their child’s educational services, they now must face the most critical and longest period of advocacy – their child’s entire adult lifetime – approximately 65 years!! Those with autism have a typical life expectancy, living on average, the same number of years as those without autism. When looking at planning, parents should begin a few years prior to the child leaving school in order to be ready for the biggest transition of their lives.
Parents of older children have a few options. Some state autism mandates don’t have age caps, including New York, California, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Wisconsin and Indiana for services such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).
New York State has steadily been providing benefits that are of great use to those with autism and their families all along; however, the testimonies of those advocates from the Autism Action Network and Advocates For Autism, Autism Speaks and The Autism Society of America still ring loud and clear in the halls of the assembly. The administrations from Governor Pataki all the way to Governor Cuomo have listened to these advocates, and for the most part, are still listening. NY continues to deliver outstanding services through the Home and Community Based Waiver via CMS with the rollout of it’s greatest impact, the Self-Determination Program through Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD).
However, for those states who do not have such innovative services, there is the Federal (White House) Mental Health Parity Law, which bars plans from imposing quantitative or qualitative treatment limitations on mental health care that are more restrictive than those on benefits for physical health conditions.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order in line with what the White House is encouraging by establishing the Employment First Commission, tasked with creating an Employment First policy for New York, which makes competitive, integrated employment the first option when considering supports and services for people with disabilities. The initiative aims to increase the employment rate, and decrease the poverty rate, for New Yorkers who are receiving services from the State, as well as register 100 businesses as having formal policies to hire people with disabilities as part of their workforce strategy.
“Equality and inclusiveness play a central role in the history of New York State, and today we are continuing that legacy by standing up for the employment needs of people with disabilities,” Governor Cuomo said. “This Executive Order relays what we stand for as New Yorkers – it will help provide fair opportunities to all people, and I am proud to move our state forward by signing it.”
So what’s those with autism who do not live in NY to do? Get a “Real Job” as the President says they can and will? What if they cannot? What if the strains and stresses of the daily grind is too much…then where will they work? The Department of Labor also emphasizes that a person should never volunteer for what others are paid to do. So before you run out there to get a volunteer job, understand that that it’s wise to use it for skill-building, but then make an appointment to sit down and negotiate a salary along with job supports.
Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act has protected people with disabilities from discrimination in employment. In 2008, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act (White House) to broaden the definition of “disability” that had been narrowed by Supreme Court decisions.