The Electronic Directory for
People with Spinal Cord Injury


August 2nd 2007

Dad on Wheels: A column by Leslie Johnson

Dad on Wheels
Employment of the Disabled:  What are the Choices?
By Leslie A. Johnson, BSW

Have you ever heard of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which is in our government?  In 2002, the federal government created the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).  Congress implemented the ODEP because of the need for people with disabilities integrated successfully in the workforce.  The Office of Disability Employment Policy is an under-cabinet of the Department of Labor, who Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao delegated authority and responsibility to the Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy.  The Assistant Secretary for ODEP was Dr. Grizzard until he resigned at the end of June 2007.  As to the question of: have you ever heard of ODEP, I have not ever heard of this office and I worked for many disability advocates agencies in my career.  I accidentally came across ODEP website, when searching for facts about disability employment.  I asked ODEP to give me an interview and they did respond with an invitation to be a part of the media teleconference, which I represented Paralinks.


I had the pleasure to be at a teleconference with Dr. Roy Grizzard from ODEP on his retirement as the Assistant Secretary of ODEP.  I was honored to attend the press teleconference, because of the historical significance of the retirement.  Dr. Grizzard was the first Assistant Secretary, since the ODEP was created in 2002.  Dr. Grizzard, after five years of service, will go down in the history books as the first assistant secretary of Office of Disability Employment Policy.  Not only did Dr. Grizzard establish the first office of ODEP, he has been a strong advocate for disability policies and rights.  Dr. Grizzard worked hard to advance the agency's mission to enhance employment opportunities for workers with disabilities. 


The Office of Disability Employment Policy has several departments to educate and promote equality for people with disabilities to integrate into the workforce.  In 2001, President Bush introduced the New Freedom Initiative. The New Freedom Initiative is founded under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  One program is the Secretary of Labor's New Freedom Initiative Award. This award encourages businesses of public and private to implement and encourage strategies for opportunities and advancement for employment for people with disabilities.  Some of the strategies are to create a partnership between all parties involved to train, hire, inform, and have accessibility to assistive technology for people with disabilities.  The recipients of the award can be an individual or individuals, small businesses, corporations, and nonprofit agencies that further the advancement of hiring people with disabilities.  The New Freedom Initiative promotes people with disabilities to learn and develop skills, receive training, and to make choices about there daily lives.   The key word here is choices. 


When did people with disabilities stop having the right to make choices?  Choices are a part of living a fulfilled and sustained life.  It is a shame the President has to pass a law or an Act to give the American people with a disability the opportunity and the right to make choices.  Yes, I do know about people with disabilities in a nursing home, because of no family can or will not assist them in anyway (which is another column by itself).  I also recognize, people with a disability who have a significant cognitive disability, that truly need a person to overlook his or her money and some decisions, so they’re maybe some exceptions.  Society makes choices everyday.  People make choices on the clothes to wear every morning, making choices on to wash their hair or not in a single day, and make choices on simple things that people with disabilities cannot do or not allowed to do for some reason.  Choices are an aspect that some people take advantage of and do not realize the power given to them to make a choice.  People with disabilities may not have a luxury to have a choice on employment, because many have to take a position in employment without a choice for a reason.  Some reasons can be accessibility, uneducated, discrimination, or not feasible because of fear of loss of benefits, such as:  Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and any other federal, state, and local assistance for people with disabilities.  For example, a person whom has to catheterize him or herself, just to urinate, one box of catheters of 10 can cost up to 50.00 per box and a monthly expense of over 100.00 a month.  If a person is counting on assistance with supplies such as catheters, most insurance companies will not pay for a durable medical need.  The outcome is the person will not work, because the employer and the insurance will not cover most things, so in the long run, it would not be feasible for the person with a disability to work.  Let me use myself as an example, I have worked for Centers for Independent Living (CILS) and most CILS cannot get insurance because of the price of group insurance.  Insurance companies will charge an outrageous amount of money for people with a disability as a group within a CIL.  One CIL I worked for had insurance but would not pay for medical supplies, most medications, and some hospital stays and treatment.  The irony of this situation is Centers for Independent Living advocate for the rights, information and referral, assistive technology, and employment, but how can they advocate for a person when the CIL’s cannot advocate for themselves.  In other words, practice what you peach.  Do not get me wrong, CIL’s do wonderful things for people with a disability and have proven track record for assisting people with disabilities.

I asked Dr. Grizzard the same question about people with disability have a fear of entering the workforce, because they may not make the monies to cover supplies, medicine, or other related issues that cost the person.  I asked Dr. Grizzard about people with disabilities having the fear of losing their benefits.  Dr. Grizzard responded with an explanation that Social Security and the ODEP is ongoing to develop ways that will result in people with a disability to maintain benefits as they explore employment.  He went on explaining about the Blue Ribbon Task Force and ODEP.   In October of 2007, there will be a report released about certain recommendations of not losing benefits and to ensure people with a disability when they start making more money without losing benefits.  The Blue Ribbon Task Force is a panel to advise on employment barriers, issues, and individuals with a disability being more self-employed.  Basically the panel gives suggestions about more people with a disability can be self-employed, such as educating through workshops, education, loans, technology, and educate businesses and corporations why they should hire a person with a disability.


Are people with a disability employable?  This question and answer is a burning desire for Dr. Grizzard to explain to employers the answer is YES!  The more people with a disability in the workplace equal more money for businesses and the economy.  Dr. Grizzard explains the importance of hiring people with a disability, especially in Fortune 500 companies.  Dr. Grizzard explains that hiring a person with a disability is not, “an act of charity,” but “good sound business.”  Dr. Grizzard wants to drill into businesses and corporations the knowledge of hiring a person with a disability as they  “…have a great deal of spending power.”   In other words, money in the pockets of a person with disability means more money put back into the economy.  I would agree with Dr. Grizzard on all three points, especially with “good sound business and …spending power.”  Dr. Grizzard explained even though no credible research has been done yet but will have research in the future, but the estimates of people with a disability have one trillion dollars of spending power.  Yes, I said the spending power of one trillion dollars!  The monies could substantially contribute to the economy, assist with the future status of Social Security funds not running out, and monies that can be of assistant to others in need.  How can an estimate of one trillion dollars be overlooked and not get the attention of corporations?  The last time I looked, the economy was not doing very well in home ownership and the everlasting rise of gasoline.  I do not think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out the numbers.  Dr. Grizzard explained the unemployment rate of people with a disability is 70 to 75% over the last several years. 


Although some there are examples of success stories of individual’s with a disability entering the workforce.  Dr. Grizzard gave two success stories:  One woman named Bertha, not sure if this is her real name, but at the age of 17 was homeless, on the streets using drugs, and working; but working as a prostitute.  I am not sure of her disability or Dr. Grizzard was using her as an example of being homeless.  Bertha, with assistance of agencies, found her struggling way off the streets and she now is 37 and working productively in the community.  Another example by Dr. Grizzard, a girl named Jill who is legally blind.  Jill lives in Indianapolis and now owns her own clothing shop with the direction and assistance of the ODEP.  She opened her own clothing store, because of difficulty to purchase clothes due to size and other contributors of existing barriers.  These are just two examples of success stories of individual’s with a disability, with assistance, can have a career orientated life and breaking down barriers. 


In conclusion, the Office of Disability Employment Policy has some under utilized resources and can be a future plan to assist people with disabilities in employment.  My thoughts are ODEP might be a good resource and can advise to Congress on how to implement laws to assist the population that has a disability, but if people with a disability do not anything about the office and state or community agencies do not network together and inform society, then what good are the resources?  I have never heard of the ODEP and no agency has ever informed me about ODEP.  How can individuals, businesses, or corporations do anything if they do not know the ODEP does exist and has been established for over five years?  I believe Dr. Grizzard has accomplished many things for the community of the disabled after I had the opportunity to talk with him and research the department.  When companies do not hire a person with a disability, the loss of the spending power can hurt the economy in different ways.  As a person with a disability, I know the discrimination, the barriers, and the realistic views of individuals encounter everyday.  I believe a person with a disability has to have at least a bachelor’s degree to even compete on the same level with another individuals with a high-school diploma without a disability.  This is my opinion based on my own observations and experiences.  Educate yourself by checking out the Office of Disability Employment Policy website.  I will leave you with a question; do people with a disability truly have a choice?      


  Phone Conference. (2007, June 27). Dr. Roy Grizzard. Office of Disability Employment Policy.  


Leslie Johnson

 Directory of Leslies Previous Columns

Send Feedback - Leslie A. Johnson, BSW -