On May 15, 2018, Governor Matt Bevin signed Executive Order 2018-328 to add Kentucky to the growing list of states with Employment First policies for people with disabilities. This Order will ensure that competitive and integrated employment in the community shall be considered the first and primary option for persons with disabilities who want to become employed. This means that all state agencies will work toward making sure people with disabilities have opportunities to work in the community and offer valuable skills to their employers while receiving a competitive wage.
This Executive Order also creates the Employment First Council as an advisory body of state government to pursue the purposes of the Executive Order. The Council will include representatives from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Office for the Blind, the Department of Education, the Division of Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities, Protection and Advocacy, Disability Determination Services, Division of Behavioral Health, KY Autism Training Center, Office of Autism, Human Development Institute, people with disabilities, family members, providers, State Rehabilitation Council, and employers. The Council will be administered by the University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute (HDI).
The Executive Order was one of the recommendations of the Kentucky Work Matters Task Force. The 23 member Task Force was established last summer to identify barriers and actions for people with disabilities, foster children, veterans with disabilities, and those impacted by substance abuse or criminal records.
Kathy Sheppard-Jones, Executive Director of HDI explains, “In our society, we largely define who we are by the work that we do, whether we have a disability or not. We have an opportunity right now. We can build collaboration around employment to create a stronger workforce that is inclusive of all people.”
Katie Wolf Whaley from HDI’s Supported Employment Training Project and who attended the signing event says, “It’s exciting to see Kentucky take this step in acknowledging that work should be the first and preferred outcome for all people with disabilities. Work brings meaning and value to our lives and having a disability should not be a barrier to employment. It’s time for all people to have the opportunity to be successful in the workforce.”
The Human Development Institute has a long history of using the power of partnerships to create positive change. HDI is home to several employment related initiatives, including KentuckyWorks, a statewide systems change project charged with improving employment outcomes for students transitioning from school to work, with a focus on youth with the most significant disabilities. The KentuckyWorks state consortium includes many of the organizations that will be part of the Employment First Council.