Lawmakers and advocates agreed Monday that a state program aimed at increasing employment of Kansans with disabilities is good policy, but a report from an oversight commission says there is little evidence the program is working.
Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center and a member of the oversight commission, submitted a report that said the state hasn’t provided enough measurable data to demonstrate the program’s success, and anecdotal reports from advocates “on the front lines” are mixed.
“By and large what they told us were there were good things happening but it’s really not an everyday reality,” Nichols said of the state law mandating that employment be one of the government’s top priorities for Kansans with disabilities.
Another member of the oversight commission, Michael Donnelly, submitted a minority report because he said he had “strong objections” to the report.
“In my view, the report focuses on opinions, hearsay, assumed and anecdotal information for which no effort was made to verify the factual basis for that feedback,” wrote Donnelly, who is director of rehabilitation services for the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
The commission’s main report suggests there was little data available other than anecdotes.
One of the report’s first recommendations is the state should “track data specifically detailing the numbers and percentages of Kansans with disabilities in competitive and integrated employment.”
Nichols said “competitive and integrated employment” means that Kansans with disabilities should be paid at comparable rates to other employees and not segregated from those other employees.
Other recommendations include supporting Kansans with disabilities who seek to start their own businesses, providing benefits planning and making the case to businesspeople that hiring Kansans with disabilities is good for business.
That message was delivered at Monday’s hearing by Cathy Butler, kitchen manager of McFarland’s restaurant in Topeka.
Butler told the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee that three of the restaurant’s 17 employees have disabilities and “they are the type of employees everybody wishes for.”
Specifically, Butler said the people with disabilities her business has hired are loyal, enthusiastic, show up on time and their work isn’t usually impeded by “things they have done the night before.”
Butler also got choked up after she told the committee about her brother, who has Down syndrome and works at a Dillons grocery store.
“We call these people with disabilities but these are just people who may need a little more help to do what we all do,” Butler said. “And they find such joy when they are able to get out and work.”
Robyn Herzog embodied that joy for the committee, telling the legislators over and over that she loves her job at Brandon Woods, an assisted living facility in Lawrence where she has worked for seven years.
“The best part about my job is the friends I made,” Herzog said. “The boys in the kitchen, Danny and Garrett, are like my brothers. They always help me when I’m not sure about something.”
The law promoting employment for Kansans with disabilities went into effect in July 2011. Nichols said 34 other states have followed suit since, but praised Kansas legislators for being “trailblazers.”
“Kansas was the first,” Nichols said. “We were the first to have a law on the books.”
Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, said it was work well done.
“It has obviously proven to be extremely beneficial to the disabled community and to the state of Kansas,” Suellentrop said.
Source: http://m.cjonline.com/news/2014-01-27/evidence-effectiveness-disability-employment-plan-lacking Andy Marso