Governor Scott Walker declared 2014 as Year of A Better Bottom Line to build awareness about the opportunity that exists in employing people with disabilities. Governor Walker also has proclaimed October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Wisconsin. It couples well with National Disability Employment Awareness Month and theme "Expect. Employ. Empower."
As a national leader in the delivery of vocational rehabilitation programs, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development's (DWD) Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) actively serves almost 17,000 consumers a year. Services range from transitional employment opportunities and on-the-job training to permanent work environments. Additionally, Wisconsin's vocational rehabilitation program placed 4,415 individuals with disabilities into employment during the last twelve months.
Traveling throughout Wisconsin, I have heard and witnessed many DVR success stories from both employers and workers with disabilities. For example, in Wausau, I met one DVR consumer named Jay who has a hearing impairment and had been on federal assistance. We helped Jay establish his employment goals and, subsequently, land a job at Linetec as a Lab Technician. Linetec was so impressed with the services by our DVR staff that they have hired several DVR job seekers with disabilities. Just like Linetec, companies across the state are affirming that employing people disabilities is helping their bottom line. And, just like Jay, people with disabilities across the state are not only reaching their employment goals, but they also love the work they do.
Another success story to note is Project SEARCH. Project SEARCH is a program that connects young people with disabilities to a series of internships. Participating youths develop employment skills that can lead to rewarding employment. At a recent graduation that I attended, a young man named Garrett spoke. Garrett was a previous Project SEARCH participant now working at American Girl. He has a bright future ahead of him because of the work experience he gained through a Project SEARCH internship through UW Hospital and Clinics in Madison.
A strong workforce is one that is inclusive of the skills and talents of all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. Governor Walker and I are committed to building a Wisconsin where every citizen can dream big and achieve an active life, full of opportunities. We encourage employers, families, and others to learn more about our DVR programs at dwd.wisconsin.gov/dvr/ or by calling 800-442-3477.
-- Newson is secretary of the Department of Workforce Development.