By Courtney Taylor
University of North Texas Workplace Inclusion & Sustainable Employment (UNT WISE), in collaboration with Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), will use the $12.7 million grant to educate employers who use subminimum wage contracts about the benefits of competitive, integrated employment. The partnership will create the Texas Beacons of Excellence (TBE) to help employers enhance their skills in recruiting, retaining, and accommodating employees with disabilities.
“This project aligns directly with our mission to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities by researching innovative best practices, training professionals in effective and ethical service, and directly supporting the disability community,” says Lucy Gafford, director of UNT WISE.
The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) was awarded to the TWC’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services, which helps people with disabilities prepare for, find and retain employment, and assists youth and students preparing for post-secondary opportunities.
“TWC believes this partnership will benefit both business outcomes for employers and career prospects for Texans with disabilities,” TWC Executive Director Ed Serna says. “Texas Beacons of Excellence will highlight the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities and ensure a pipeline of talent with increased earning potential.”
The program will use a three-pronged approach to achieve the goal of helping subminimum wage earners with disabilities receive higher wages:
- TBE will partner with in-demand businesses to identify local career opportunities and improve employers’ abilities to hire, train, and retain persons with disabilities.
- TBE will collaborate with public and private employers with Section 14C certificates, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, to adapt their business models to emphasize customized and supported employment arrangements.
- TBE will create a pipeline from high school to competitive, integrated employment to provide students with disabilities informed choices though career guidance, training, and work experience that result in higher wages.
UNT WISE will provide training across communities and connect employers, self-advocates, 14C facilities, educational staff and community rehabilitation providers in order to create communities of practice that enhance opportunities for competitive, integrated employment.
“UNT WISE is thrilled to have an opportunity to partner with TWC where together we will improve competitive, integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities, enhance the labor market for Texas businesses, and create a lasting and meaningful impact on our communities across the state,” Gafford says.
TWC will be instrumental in connecting UNT WISE with employers and will provide additional support services throughout the project.