Last week, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao marked the fifth anniversary of the DisabilityInfo.gov Web site. Secretary Chao paid tribute to the organizations and individuals that continue to make this federal interagency portal a tremendous success.
“From its inception, our vision for the Web site DisabilityInfo.gov has been to make it an effective and widely available means of helping people with disabilities tap information they can use to make a better life for themselves and their families,” said Secretary Chao. “Five years later, DisabilityInfo.gov is an award-winning collaboration among 22 federal agencies that has reached more than seven million visitors from 180 countries.”
The event included the premiere of a DisabilityInfo.gov video providing an overview of information and resources available at the Web site. During the afternoon of Oct. 26, streaming video became available online at the site.
In addition, Secretary Chao was be joined by Maj. Daniel Gade, the White House’s associate director for domestic policy, and representatives from many federal agencies that contribute content to and support the Web site. The program featured remarks by David Eisner, Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is DisabilityInfo.gov’s newest federal agency partner.
Three awards were presented at the ceremony on Friday, October 26, 2007. One was for “outstanding commitment and support by an individual” and two for “outstanding commitment and support by a federal agency.”
Managed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, DisabilityInfo.gov is a collaborative effort among 22 federal government agencies dedicated to making it the leading, one-stop federal source for disability-related information. The site aims to provide nearly 50 million Americans with disabilities and others with national, state and local tools on numerous subjects, including benefits, civil rights, community life, education, employment, housing, health, technology and transportation.
The ceremony was especially fitting since October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Under the leadership of its former director, Dr. Roy Grizzard, the Office of Disability Employment Programs (ODEP) made some huge strides.
ODEP partnered with employers and agencies at the state and local level to show the nation the still-untapped talents of disabled workers. It formed a key alliance with the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM), the largest society of human resource managers, with 500 chapters worldwide.
Dr. Grizzard’s directorship of ODEP was just the final achievement in a career founded on battling the odds. In his 20’s, he was struck with a degenerative retinal disorder known as retinitis pigmentosa, which left him legally blind by age 40. Despite the odds he went on to get a PhD, then became a teacher and a school administrator. From there he went on to a state agency for the disabled, and finally joined ODEP.
Dr. Grizzard is an inspirational example. Yet ODEP itself acknowledges that there is still much to do. Disabled people still face chronic underemployment in this country.
October was proclaimed National Disability Awareness month by President George W. Bush. The month is a time to stress the need to improve employment prospects for those with disabilities, and to guarantee workplace diversity.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was the turning point. The legislation made it against the law to discriminate against workers because of disabilities. It applies to hiring, promotion, and training. The ADA is also designed to insure that job sites themselves are accessible to disabled employees.
In 2001 the New Freedom Initiative was designed to urge full participation by the disabled in all areas, among them education and employment. The “Ticket to Work” program help assure access to job placement and training for the disabled.
Dave Dravecky, the former Giants pitcher, is the first recipient of the ODEP SPIRIT Award, honoring those who have fought the odds to achieve success despite disabilities. After Dravecky lost his pitching arm to bone cancer, he went on to become a best-selling writer and a motivational speaker.
On October 25, 2007, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a $50 million grant to benefit workers affected by the wildfires in California. The funds include benefits for unemployed workers, as well as business owners and other self-employed people who are without jobs due to the disaster.
An initial release of $16.7 million will create as many as 3,125 temporary jobs to aid in efforts underway in response to the wildfires burning across much of Southern California.
“The Southern California fires have caused catastrophic damage, and it is critical that the state receives assistance immediately,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. “This $50 million National Emergency Grant will fund over 3,000 temporary jobs for workers to aid in cleanup and recovery as well as provide humanitarian assistance to Californians who have suffered in this ongoing disaster.”
The grant is awarded to the California Employment Development Department. It will provide much-needed relief in the areas affected by the wildfires, including the following counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura.
This action is quick, even by U.S. Department of Labor standards. Only the day before, on October 24, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared these counties as eligible for FEMA’s Public Assistance Program.
The U.S. Department of Labor funds will be used to create temporary employment on projects related to the cleanup, repair, renovation and reconstruction of public structures, facilities and lands within wildfire-afflicted communities.
Monies under these grants will be used for projects that provide food, clothing, shelter and other types of humanitarian assistance for disaster victims.
This latest award is just the most recent in a series of labor grants this year…although most are for more mundane situations than the wildfires.
For example, workers for a Technology firm in Boise, Idaho, who were laid off will receive training for new work thanks to a grant of more than $2 million. The funds are from the U.S. Department of Labor. The more than 400 workers were laid off by Micron Technology. Of the total $2,010,277 grant, $847,538 was immediately released by the DOL.
Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said the grant provides the workers in Idaho with “skills training, career counseling and other employment services to help them find and succeed in new jobs.”
Missouri workers were laid off after the O’Sullivan Industries plant in Lamar, Missouri closed, and a grant of $1 million was released.
In Illinois, 20 counties in the southern part of that state received a grant through SI WORKS, a program meant to improve opportunities for workers and to boost economic development.
Two grants totaling more than $1.94 million were earmarked for help to workers in Missouri and Massachusetts. The grants are designed to supply help finding jobs for workers who are laid off when plants close. Meanwhile, the DOL has determined that the workers can also receive other help under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, or TAA.
Workers in parts of Minnesota that were hit by flash floods will receive temporary jobs and benefits thanks to a $3 million grant.
National Emergency Grants (NEG) are awarded at the discretion of the Labor secretary. They are meant to be temporary help, expanding state and local job assistance services when what are called “significant dislocation events” occur. Layoffs, plant closings, and other problems may cause a need that goes beyond what state and local agencies can provide. When that happens, states may make an application for an NEG. But a state cannot qualify unless discretionary funds are bundled into the state’s resources.
The DOL earlier this year made a grant a grant of more than $1.2 million to help nearly 250 workers who were laid off. All of the workers were with the corporate offices of Brooks Eckerd in Warwick, Rhode Island, and lost their jobs when Rite Aid Acquired Brooks Eckerd.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) recently announced a new partnership with CVS Caremark to promote empowerment for workers with disabilities.
The new alliance is designed to encourage and promote the employment of people with disabilities through training and education, outreach and communication, technical assistance and other efforts.
“This alliance will mutually benefit CVS Caremark, the company’s workforce and customers, the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and the general public,” said Karen M. Czarnecki, acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for ODEP. “Hiring, retaining and advancing employees with disabilities is just good business. ODEP and CVS Caremark will share information, guidance and resources that will help to develop model programs for other employers, particularly in the retail and pharmacy services industries.”
CVS Caremark, with headquarters in Woonsocket, R.I., employs about 190,000 people and has 6,200 retail and specialty pharmacies, 11 mail service pharmacies and 14 call center locations nationwide.
The company operates CVS pharmacies, one of the largest drugstore chains nationwide.
Through the two-year affiliation, ODEP and CVS Caremark jointly will distribute training and education materials to human resource managers throughout the company. They will also share effective disability employment practices with all managers. CVS and ODEP hope to increase the company’s employment of workers with disabilities by collaborating to identify technical assistance resources in providing workplace accommodations. The two organizations also will disseminate information in a variety of ways to promote a national dialogue on disability employment issues.
The alliance agreement was signed this afternoon by Karen Czarnecki and Steve Wing, director of government programs for CVS Caremark, at the Labor Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
CVS has a history of effectively working with disabled employees. It was a 2006 recipient of the Secretary of Labor’s New Freedom Initiative Award for exemplary and innovative efforts in furthering the employment and workplace environment for people with disabilities. The company is a member of ODEP’s Circle of Champions, a distinguished group of U.S. employers that works with the agency to help inform disability employment policy by sharing proven business strategies.
ODEP’s Alliance Initiative is open to both public and private sector organizations that would like to work with the agency to enhance the recruitment, hiring, employment and advancement of people with disabilities. An Alliance Directive available at www.dol.gov/odep provides guidelines and criteria for Alliance partnerships.
Opportunities for workers with disabilities have come a long way in a short time. It was not until 1990 that disabled workers achieved significant rights. In that year the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was passed, making it against the law to discriminate against the disabled worker, whether in hiring, promotions, or training. The ADA also guarantees that employers must make reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities. Before ADA, many workplaces and public buildings were not accessible by disabled people, especially those in wheelchairs.
October is National Disability Awareness month. Proclaimed by President George W. Bush, National Disability Awareness Month is meant to acknowledge the many accomplishments of people with disabilities, and to stress the need to open the workplace to the many talents of disabled workers. It’s also designed to ensure workplace diversity.
Despite legislation and some inspiring examples of achievement against all odds, the Office for Disability Employment Programs (ODEP) notes that this country still has a long way to go to assure that it is tapping into the talents of its disabled workers.
ODEP itself was headed up, until recently, by Dr. Roy Grizzard, a model for disabled workers. Dr. Grizzard was struck with a degenerative disease of the retina called retinitis pigmentosa when he was in his 20’s and by 40 he was legally blind. Nevertheless he got a PhD and pursued a career as a teacher and school administrator until taking a position with a state agency for the disabled. From there he went on to lead ODEP.
The Sixth Annual New Freedom Initiative Awards recognizing exceptional commitment to helping Americans with disabilities were awarded by Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao on October 24, 2007. The awards ceremony took place at the JW Marriott Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
This year’s SPIRIT Award goes to Marc A. Buoniconti, ambassador for the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, or MPCP. The SPIRIT award is given each year to the individual who best personifies:
- Role Modeling
Football runs in the Buoniconti family. Marc’s father is the legendary Miami Dolphin’s All-Pro and Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti.
Marc Buoniconti won a competitive football scholarship to The Citadel, the exclusive military school in South Carolina. In 1985, while making a tackle, Buoniconti suffered a spinal cord injury. Since his injury, Marc has dedicated his life to raising money and awareness for spinal cord injury research. With his family, Marc founded The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, now the world’s most comprehensive spinal cord research center.
The MPCP is a school of the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami in Florida. The MCPC has assembled a wide range of researchers, clinicians and therapists who are experts in treatment directly related to spinal cord injuries. The MPCP’s goal is to find more effective treatments and eventually a cure for paralysis.
The SPIRIT award was first awarded in 2006. The first SPIRIT award winner was Dave Drebecky, the legendary baseball player. Once a Hall of Fame left-handed pitcher, Drabecky developed cancer in his pitching arm. After treatment including surgery and freezing the bone of his arm, Drabecky make an astonishing return to the playing field, pitching in two games in during his comeback. In the second game, after three perfect innings, fans watched in horror as Drabecky’s arm shattered on the mound after a pitch. Drabecky eventually had his left arm and shoulder amputated to remove the cancer, but made a comeback as a bestselling author and motivational speaker.
John D. Kemp, Esq., an attorney with the firm of Powers, Pyles, Sutter &Verville P.C. was honored as an individual employer.
Three businesses were honored with the New Freedom Initiative Awards. They are Dow Chemical, Gap, Inc. and Northrop Grumman. These awards recognize individuals and organizations that enhance the employment opportunities of disabled people.
Dow Chemical, based in Midland, Michigan, is “a leader in science and technology, providing innovative chemical, plastic and agricultural products and services to many essential consumer markets” according to the company website. Dow is best known as a supplier of chemicals to individuals and industry, including cleaners, fertilizers and industrial chemicals.
The Gap, Inc. is based in San Francisco, California. The company owns a variety of clothing retailers aimed at younger people, including The Gap, Old Navy, Piper Lime and Banana Republic. The company operates more than 3,100 stores with annual revenue of $15.9 billion. According to founder Don Fischer, the company’s purpose is, “To make it easier to find a pair of jeans.”
Northrop Grumman Corp. is a Los Angeles-based designer, systems integrator and manufacturer of military aircraft, defense electronics, precision weapons, commercial and military aeronautical structures.
In addition, three organizations that benefit disabled workers were honored at the New Freedom Initiative Awards. These include the Laurie Mitchell Employment Center in Alexandria, Virginia and Positive Vibe Café in Richmond, Virginia.
The Positive Café of Richmond boasts healthy, homemade meals in a relaxed atmosphere near the James River. The Café’s training program specializes in helping people with disabilities.
“When people ask me how to find the restaurant, I tell them to look for the place with the golden aurora around it, because that’s just how positive this place is,” says Chip Young, a graduate and current employee at The Positive Vibe.
A smoking ban in Illinois may soon be expanded even further.
The Chicago Park District is considering a ban on smoking on all Park District property. The park district is the nation’s oldest, and commands the highest budget, with more than $385 million annually. This ban would affect all Park District workers, as well as recreational users of the District’s beaches, parks, playgrounds, and buildings.
Chicago is the largest city in Illinois, with some 66% of the state’s residents living in the area. A ban on smoking in the parks would affect more than 3 million people.
Chicago’s parks are home to hundreds of special events each year, including the Taste of Chicago over the July 4th weekend, cultural events, art fairs, and free performances of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Millennium Park. The parks also host hundreds of festivals each year, from the Puerto Rican Day festival to Oz Fest, a rock ‘n roll celebration held in a park dedicated to Frank Baum, creator of the Wizard of Oz. Under the new regulations, all of these events would be affected.
This smoking ban is particularly interesting, because it is a unilateral regulation, rather than legislation. If implemented, the Park District Management would make it illegal to smoke outside in public areas such as parks, playgrounds and the beautiful beaches along Lake Michigan.
Since the Illinois Clean Air Act was passed in the 1990s, many workers have resigned themselves to braving the subzero chill and gale force winds in winter, to smoke outside. Now, even that may be eliminated.
The proposed smoking ban would carry one of the toughest penalties in the state so far, with smokers who light up within 15 feet of a playground or beach facing fines of up to $500. The measure is expected to be approved on October 24, 2007 and will go into effect immediately.
While the new regulation will be implemented quickly, the measure has been discussed for quite some time. Last year, the Alliance for the Great Lakes suggested a smoking ban in parks. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley demurred, questioning who would enforce such a ban. He suggested that lifeguards on the beaches were more concerned about rescuing swimmers than stomping out cigarettes.
Now, however, even the Mayor has come around to the non-smoker’s point of view. “You have children in parks,” he said. In an unusual moment of fluency, Daley, who is possibly the least articulate person on the planet, added, “I think it’s well intentioned in regard to trying to protect the environment in and around where children are, where families are.”
Parks Superintendent Tim Mitchell says that for the present, smokers will be allowed on baseball diamonds and picnic areas. Those areas may be added to the smoking ban in the near future, however.
Chicago already has a citywide smoking ban that prohibits smoking in offices, enclosed sports arenas and restaurants. The current city law also prohibits smoking within 15 feet of a building entrance.
The state’s tough smoking ban, which goes into effect on January 1, 2008, will prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants and sports stadiums.
Workers for the Alliance for the Great Lakes point out that smoking has many negative consequences for the environment. The group picked up more than 34,000 cigarette butts off the beach in just 3 hours. Cigarette butts containing harmful nicotine are often eaten by wildlife. The nicotine can also leach into the water. Mechanical removal by sand-combing equipment has been ineffective, says spokesperson Joel Brammeier.
Several townships in suburban Chicago also have laws that ban smoking outdoors in public parks. These include Buffalo Grove and the upscale suburbs of Oak Park, Deerfield, Lake Forest and Wilmette.
Some smokers feel that they are being pressured by the laws to quit. Joel Africk, president of the Chicago branch of the American Lung Association, agrees. “AS more locations become smoke-free, it’s easier for smokers to quit, because they don’t see smoking all around them.”