President’s Message – Spring 2017

Barbara Butz, President
Barbara Butz, President PolicyWorks

What a year! 2016 was full of opportunities, partnerships and innovation for PolicyWorks.

We completed our first year of work as part of San Diego State University’s Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center. Funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the five-year, $1.4 million grant allows PolicyWorks staff to provide technical assistance to the majority of the state Vocational Rehabilitation agencies, both General and Blind, in the Southeast and Puerto Rico. We are teamed with the National Disability Institute and the University of Arkansas CURRENTS to provide training and technical assistance on topics related to implementation of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act. What an honor and a privilege to work with this team of outstanding professionals committed to improving the lives of people with disabilities.

We also partnered with our colleague Tari Hartman Squire on the work she has championed over the years, helping youth with disabilities connect to careers in the entertainment sector, including film, television, interactive media and advertising. In 2016, we partnered on three Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 events held at CUNY’s John Jay’s School of Criminal Justice campus and the White House. Each session brings together young people and employers in the entertainment industry for resume reviews, speed interviewing and flash mentoring. Short workshops on networking, mentoring and disclosure are also key to the success of the events. The White House event also featured an after-hours film viewing of documentaries written, produced, directed and starring members of Inclusion Films and the Deaf Film Camp with segments of ABC’s hit “Speechless.”

More recently, we partnered with CBS News, Entertainment, Sports and Business groups for a March 2017 event in Hollywood that engaged 52 young people. The event was held on the CBS lot in Hollywood. In partnership with the National Disability Mentoring Coalition, the Deaf Film Camp, Inclusion Films, Signmation and others, we have developed several funding proposals to that would allow to continue to offer these opportunities and to expand the number and geographic reach of the program.

We are continuing to partner with Florida Atlantic University on our Florida College to Career Transition program funded by The Kessler Foundation and the Millbank Foundation. This project is a replication of our work in California at SDSU, University of California Fulton and the University of California Berkeley. In 2016, we served 20 students and piloted a summer boot camp style version of Paul Hippolitus’ course which was modified for use in this format with young people on the Autism Spectrum. In 2017, we are partnering with Broward College, University of South Florida/ St. Petersburg, University of Central Florida and Beacon College.

We are also piloting our Peer MentoringWorks online class in Florida in partnership with Florida Vocational Rehabilitation. The pilot serves several counties in South Florida and more than 30 pilot coordinators have been trained and 17 mentors have taken the course. Completion results in a certificate which allows them to work with Florida VR clients. This program is set to be expanded to serve the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas. It is very exciting to see the program get this high level of commitment and involvement with our partners. We expect the project will serve 150 students and place 75% of those young people who are available for work.

We also continue to work with the World Disability Institute and the National Council on Independent Living to help change the definition of disability used by Social Security for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The initiative called CareerACCESS is designed to serve SSI youth, 18-30 in their career building years, change the definition of disability from “inability to work” to a definition based on a functional ability as well as provide career coaching and counseling and support services to allow SSI youth to reach their highest potential and achieve independence through employment. Independence Through Employment is our vision and it so exciting to be part of these efforts that are helping individual young people make the vision a reality in their lives. We look forward to seeing what promise 2017 continues to hold!