Press Release from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment

Colorado to Participate in National Program to Increase Employment of People With Disabilities

State now on track to become a model employer for “Employment First” program

(DENVER) — The Department of Labor and Employment announced today that Colorado has been selected as one of a growing number of states that will participate in an innovative national program to help people with disabilities obtain Competitive, Integrated Employment (CIE).

Even in a strong economy, people with disabilities are often unemployed or at least underemployed.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2018, the proportion of the disabled population that was employed was 19.1 percent. In contrast, the employment to population ratio for those without a disability was 65.9 percent.

Improving the disability employment statistics in Colorado will take a concerted effort but it can certainly be done.  That is the ambitious goal of a national movement called Employment First. The movement is centered on the belief that all citizens, including even those with significant disabilities, are capable of full participation in employment and community life and that Competitive Integrated Employment is the first and preferred outcome, regardless of the level of disability.

In February, Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee appropriated three years of funding to the Department of Labor and Employment’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to implement key Employment First strategies.

Among the strategies was the creation of an Office of Employment First that will be a center of excellence and accountability for Employment First policies, practices and implementation.  With its establishment, the state is now receiving technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy and no-cost consultation from a network of national experts.

A second strategy was developing an Employment First Initiative that will allow Colorado State Government to lead by example.  Colorado’s goal is to be recognized as a “Model Employer” by hiring more people with disabilities.  The action is designed to encourage more private sector employers to invest in diversity as a business asset.

Among the other strategic priorities is capacity planning.  As the program grows and expands, it will require flexibility to meet increased capacity needs.  A website will be developed to increase outreach; information and training resources for families and individuals must be designed and implemented and, of course, sustainable funding is necessary to ensure that the Employment First Initiatives achieve traction and results in year-over-year job gains and equitable employment for people with disabilities.

“Our Division of Vocational Rehabilitation will be a key player at every step in the Employment First program,” says Department of Labor and Employment Executive Director Joe Barela.  “But success won’t be achieved by one agency.  It will demand a coordinated effort of several agencies and more than one level of government.  The Employment First approach is a framework aimed at encouraging a more crosscut and integrated approach to getting people with disabilities into employment and self-sufficiency.  We’re excited about the work ahead.”

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