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Hitting the Road Part III

Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy Kareem Dale reflects on a visit to Chicago where he discussed community living with grassroots advocates and federal contracting with several industry leaders looking to hire individuals with disabilities.

It’s a busy time here in D.C., so I’m getting back to finishing up telling you about my recent trip to Chicago. After the successful healthcare careers summit and a constructive training on President Obama’s Executive Order to make the government a model employer for people with disabilities, the trip to Chicago continued with one of my favorite combinations: good food and good conversation.

I sat down to breakfast with some of the nation’s leading employers to talk about employment for people with disabilities. The variety of companies and industries joining the breakfast demonstrated the vast interest in helping increase employment for Americans with disabilities, including industries such as food service, health care, financial services, hardware sales, travel and so much more. The setting for the roundtable was relaxed and the chatter flowed naturally, but the ideas we came up with will have meaningful impacts for job hunters with disabilities. For example, we discussed employment of people with disabilities by companies that are contractors with the federal government.

Specifically, we discussed how last July, the Department of Labor published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, inviting public comment on how it could strengthen the affirmative action requirements of the regulations implementing section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In doing so, the agency noted that it’s time to reexamine affirmative action provisions under Section 503 to make them more effective and to help ensure that more people with disabilities are employed and are given the opportunity to advance in employment in the Federal contracting labor force. Following its evaluation of public comments, the agency has recently drafted a notice of proposed rulemaking on this subject, entitled Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination Obligations of Contractors and Subcontractors Regarding Individuals with Disabilities. The draft of this notice is currently undergoing an interagency review process. Upon completion of that process, the Department of Labor expects to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking inviting further public comment on its proposal.

Like all good breakfasts, I left this one energized and invigorated for the day ahead. My next stop took me to a Chicago landmark in the disability community, Access Living. Almost two years ago, President Obama launched “The Year of Community Living” to focus on independent living for Americans with disabilities. During my visit to Access Living, I sat down with a variety of grass roots advocates, including Chicagoans who have recently transitioned to independent living. The assembled group offered insightful policy perspectives and suggestions and told empowering stories about becoming active in their community. I also listened to the community advocates’ hopes and concerns about Medicaid, the President’s budget and housing services. The Access Living roundtable was a perfect example of the type of event I love – one where I get to hear from Americans who are directly affected by the work that we do at the White House. The feedback and advice from grassroots advocates is worth just as much as all the policy papers and memos I read, and I’m grateful that we had the opportunity to sit down together.

Stay tuned for the last installment of this blog to hear about my final meetings in Chicago.