Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: How Your Nonprofit Can Help Youth With Disabilities
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is a federal law signed July 22, 2014. It is intended to help job seekers access employment, education, training and support services to succeed in competitive and integrated employment. WIOA requires various providers, including state vocational rehabilitation offices, developmental services offices and others, to work together to ensure that youth with disabilities have access to necessary services and support.
Who Provides These Services, and Where Can I Find Youth Who Want To Work?
A state’s vocational rehabilitation office is the designated agency responsible for promoting the employment of individuals with disabilities by providing vocational rehabilitation, job training, and placement services pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. These offices provide services to eligible individuals with disabilities. Services are provided directly by counselors and staff and through a network of approved vendors, and must be individualized to meet the employment goals of the person with a disability.
Under WIOA, vocational rehabilitation offices must set aside at least 15 percent of their federal case service dollars to provide pre-employment transition services (PETS) to “students with disabilities who are eligible or potentially eligible for vocational rehabilitation services.”
Who is a student with a disability?
A student with a disability is an individual with a disability in a secondary, postsecondary or other recognized education program who:
• Is not younger than the earliest age for the provision of transition services under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, unless the state elects a lower minimum age for receipt of pre-employment services and is not younger than that minimum age
• Is not older than 21, unless the individual state law provides for a higher maximum age for receipt of services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the individual is not older than that maximum age
• Is eligible for and is receiving special education or related services under theIndividuals with Disabilities Education Act
What Are Pre-Employment Transition Services?
WIOA added a new section to the Rehabilitation Act that requires each state to provide or otherwise arrange for the provision of PETS for all eligible students with disabilities. These services include:
1. Job exploration counseling or career counseling and guidance. This involves a wide variety of professional activities that help people deal with career-related challenges. Career counseling is also offered in various settings, including in groups and individually, in-person or by means of digital communication. Job exploration activities may include career awareness, informational interviews, career speakers, vocational assessments, job clubs, job shadowing, career student organization, volunteering, workplace simulations and workplace tours or field trips.
2. Work-based learning experiences. These may include in-school or after- school opportunities, or experience outside the traditional school setting (internships, for example) that is provided in an integrated environment to the maximum extent possible. Where paid experiences are provided, the wages are to be no less than the minimum wage.
3. Counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary educational programs, including those at institutions of higher education.
4. Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living. Work readiness skills are a set of skills and behaviors that are necessary for any job.
5. Instruction in self-advocacy. This may include instruction in self-advocacy and self-determination with assistance from peer mentors.
Vocational rehabilitation services will collaborate with employers to provide students and youth with disabilities opportunities for career exploration that would lead to competitive, integrated employment. Students and youth with disabilities may be afforded opportunities to complete mock interviews with employers, job-shadowing experiences, career days, disability mentoring days with employers, and other PETS to prepare students for competitive integrated employment.
How do I start?
If your nonprofit is interested in partnering with vocational rehabilitation services to provide youth with an employment or volunteer opportunity, reach out to your state vocational rehabilitation office.
Jamie Ray-Leonetti, Esq. is a staff attorney with the Philadelphia-based Disability Rights Pennsylvania. She is also a regular contributor to NonProfit PRO, writing the Legal Matters column.