Lessons from Ohio: How State Agency Apprenticeships Can Serve Young Adults with Disabilities  

By Aidan Harty and Mary Greenfield 

In 2019, Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio passed Executive Order 2019-03D, which designated the state as a “model employer” of people with disabilities. Inspired by the executive order, the state’s vocational rehabilitation agency, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD), launched the Ohio Vocational Apprentice Program (OVAP). OVAP provides people with disabilities, including youth and young adults with disabilities (Y&YAD), valuable on-the-job work experience through paid apprenticeships with state agencies.

During this inaugural Youth Apprenticeship Week, May 5–11, 2024, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)-funded Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth) highlights the ways states like Ohio have successfully leveraged apprenticeship programs to create sustainable career pipelines for young people.

Apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs provide important opportunities for Y&YAD to explore career paths of interest while earning a competitive wage. In Ohio, OVAP apprentices are paid a minimum of $16.50 per hour, funded through OOD, for approximately 25 hours of work per week at a maximum of 1,000 hours throughout their apprenticeship. To date, the program has placed 80 Ohioans with disabilities in apprenticeships across 29 state agencies in career pathways such as customer service, human resources, information technology, finance, graphic design, mail processing, food service, and office professional services.              

To help policymakers better understand Ohio’s success, CAPE-Youth recently spoke with Jon Hackathorn, the administrator of the OOD program, about the program’s origins and the factors that have led to its continued success.

Support from the Top

Although it did not directly create OVAP, Hackathorn credits Governor DeWine’s 2019 executive order as the inspiration for the program and a continuing impetus for state agencies to foster inclusivity. “Ohio Governor DeWine is a strong supporter of the program,” says Hackathorn, adding that OOD Director Kevin L. Miller sits on the Governor’s cabinet and keeps the program in front of state leadership. 

“It has to begin with the leadership of the state,” Hackathorn says. “Executive Order 2019-03D is something that is leading all of these agencies to be inclusive of individuals with disabilities and [to be] a model employer.”

Working Together

Collaboration is another feature crucial to the program’s success. OOD partners with the Department of Administrative Services and other state agencies to provide diverse opportunities to OVAP participants. Hackathorn meets at least once a month with state talent acquisition staff to share emerging opportunities as agency vacancies become available. Through these efforts, the program has expanded to include apprenticeship opportunities with the Ohio General Assembly and statewide elected officials. 

Read the State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED) article highlighting how OVAP’s collaboration efforts contribute to the program’s success.  

Positive Reviews

Apprentices’ positive work experiences in state agencies are yet another factor in OVAP’s success. “[T]he program provides individuals with opportunities to improve their skills on the job, and that has been very, very important,” Hackathorn says. As apprentices gain valuable skills, such as task management and requesting accommodations, they often grow in confidence, competence, and contentment.

Hackathorn notes that 30 people who finished the program are currently employed in positions that match their apprenticeship, either in the public or private sector. These individuals are now earning an average of nearly $20 per hour. “We had several people who have utilized our apprenticeship program chime in to endorse it,” Hackathorn says.

Over time, successful program outcomes and apprentices’ positive experiences have prompted state agencies to adopt the program. Positive word of mouth helps market the program.   

Innovative Thinking

As other states look to OVAP’s model to implement their own apprenticeship programs for young people with disabilities, Hackathorn advises thinking outside the box. He says agencies should understand their business and operational needs broadly and from multiple angles to identify opportunities to serve individuals with disabilities. “Don’t limit positions to only certain areas of the agency,” Hackathorn says. “There can be multiple opportunities within a state structure that agencies can benefit from having an apprentice.”  

The future for OVAP is bright, with staff working to make their 100th apprenticeship placement by 2025. For information about other initiatives in Ohio, check out the OOD website. To stay up to date on other CAPE-Youth publications, follow CAPE-Youth on X @CSG_CAPEYouth and on Facebook at CAPEYouth. To stay up to date on ODEP initiatives follow ODEP on LinkedIn.

Women’s History Month: What States Can Learn from Women Who Advance Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility

By Abeer Sikder, JD and Mary Greenfield

When states implement strategies to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA)—particularly for women with disabilities who experience additional barriers to employment—they encourage more people to leverage their unique backgrounds to succeed.

This Women’s History Month, we sat down with two exceptional women who champion DEIA every day: Taryn Williams, Assistant Secretary of Labor in the Office of Disability Employment Policy, and Bruny Kenou, a mental health activist and student at George Washington University Medical School. Both women highlighted self-advocacy and mentorship as two powerful tentpoles of support for women in the workplace and offered advice to policymakers for creating accessible futures for everyone.

How Self-Advocacy Grows to Inclusion

Both Williams and Kenou learned to self-advocate as young people, in the context of their own health care. For Williams, it was her mother who encouraged her to ask questions, engage with professionals, and participate in decision-making during her medical appointments. Williams’s mother gave her the confidence to take up space and have her voice be clearly heard.

This early education in self-advocacy translated to a career in advocating for others who often go unrecognized. “I want women with disabilities to know they belong wherever they show up,” Williams says. “You deserve an opportunity to explore your aspirations, to build your skills, to try and be successful in jobs and careers you choose. Whether it be advocating for your accommodations or advocating for … equitable pay, find ways to become your own champion.”

Now, as assistant secretary of labor, Williams’s role is to enable and encourage employers across the United States to foster inclusion, instill equity, and support people with disabilities, including women, to achieve success. “Diversity and inclusion are not something we should have to fight for, but rather something that [should be] a natural and accepted part of our world,” Williams says. “But we’re not there yet.”

As a person who needed mental health care but was reluctant to seek help because of the stigma, Kenou experienced firsthand the lack of support for people facing barriers to care. While she was still an undergraduate in college, Kenou helped found DukeLine, a peer-to-peer mental health support program. She went on to work for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); afterward, she entered medical school to become a physician.

Throughout her career, Kenou found herself fearing the repercussions of seeking mental health care as a job seeker. It was this stigma that motivated her to become a doctor and to cofound Lay Mental Health Advocates (LMHA). “I knew how important this story was to why I wanted to become a physician,” says Kenou, whose organization, LMHA, empowers people in their mental health journey by helping them follow up on appointments and talk to their health care providers about issues like side effects or changes in treatment. “I knew what an asset I would be going in with all these tools that I was able to amass through my healing journey.”

Mentorship and Sponsorship as Best Practice

Mentorship and sponsorship—women helping women—can empower younger workers with disabilities to overcome negative stereotypes about their abilities while elevating DEIA in workplaces.

Kenou notes that mentorship can work both ways, with older generations helping youth and vice versa. In medical school, Kenou benefits from the guidance of an older mentor who has helped her navigate school and even confront stigma around mental health. At the same time, she says, there’s a lot older generations can learn from youth about seeking help, sharing struggles, and embracing inclusion. “We’re so much more open to talking about our struggles and we’re so much more open to being like, ‘I talked to my therapist the other day,’” Kenou says.

While acknowledging that mentors provide essential guidance, especially for underrepresented women, Williams also sees sponsorship as a best practice. “Mentors help reflect back on different experiences,” Williams says, “but sponsors make a difference in addressing those harder barriers keeping us from our employment goals. Sponsorship is really about an individual, often in a senior role, who actively promotes your growth.”
Williams emphasized that mentors encourage women starting out in their careers to think about how to earn raises and promotions, but sponsors have the power to make these things happen and to advance careers.

Although significant job challenges for women with disabilities remain, Kenou says she is inspired by the increasing numbers of women in higher education and in leadership roles. She is especially proud that more and more Black women are earning degrees, and she encourages underrepresented women to find mentors and sponsors who understand their journey. “Lean on your advisors and lean on your mentors … be engaged and have people understand your vision,” Kenou says.

Advice for Policymakers

Williams and Kenou urge policymakers to keep in mind three key considerations that lend tremendous support to women with disabilities:

  1. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Being able to take extended time away from work is crucial for recuperating from illness or caring for a loved one, and the FMLA affords this security to eligible employees. “Women with disabilities … oftentimes need to take that time, but they can’t without sacrificing their job,” says Williams. Additionally, Kenou frequently amplifies this message in her work to expand FMLA protections.
  2. Workforce DEIA funding for people with disabilities. Kenou encourages policymakers to increase funding to support DEIA efforts in the workplace. “I would really like to create a pipeline that increases diversity, especially in medicine and making it so that there is less discrimination,” Kenou says, noting that when young people receive care from providers who look like them or whom they are comfortable with, it helps reduce stigma. When leaders help reduce stigma toward disability, young women will have more confidence to request support.
  3. Inclusion of people with disabilities in leadership. Kenou and Williams want to see people with disabilities—especially women and youth of color who understand intersectionality—included in leadership. “[It ensures] that people with disabilities are represented in policymaking and, conversely, [that] the community knows and is a part of policy development,” Williams says. “Society sends us a message that our needs are less important or an afterthought and that we should just be grateful we’re there in the first place. … [We are] making the case to the broader world—including systems comprising people who make polices that affect our outcomes—[that] the world should be inclusive of us.”

Wisconsin’s Braided Funding Efforts

By Enmanuel Gomez Antolinez

While numerous public, private and nonprofit programs and services are available to support the employment of youth and young adults with disabilities (Y&YAD), a lack of coordination between stakeholders can result in service gaps and duplication. Wisconsin used braided funding strategically to increase coordination and alignment between employers, service providers, education sponsors and workforce systems, enhancing Y&YAD services and outcomes. Braided funding is a financing method that uses multiple funding streams to support the total cost of a program or service. It ensures that funding goes where it is most needed, encourages interagency coordination and ensures the appropriate program and administrative costs are properly charged to each separate funding stream. According to the U.S Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy braided funding can be used to:

  • Support an individual with a disability with the goal of pursuing, gaining, or keeping Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE),
  • Support Pre-Employment Transition Services, and
  • Support post-secondary preparation and transition activities.

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services’ Braiding Federal Funding to Expand Access to Quality Early Care and Education and Early Childhood Supports and Services: A Tool for State and Local Communities discusses this in more detail.

While this tool has an early education focus, the analysis it utilizes is equally applicable  in a transition setting. Specifically, as outlined in the tool, states and local governments may consider implementing the following strategies to support and expand transition services to Y&YAD through braided funding by:

  • Identifying funding streams.
    • Identify what funding sources are available in your state or locality and identify how this funding can be used to achieve specific goals.
  • Developing an inventory of funds known as a fiscal map, directed toward a particular population (e.g., Y&YAD) or service group. A fiscal map can be used to:
    • Recognize duplicative funding streams as well as gaps in funding.
    • Establish methods to use funds more strategically.
  • Identifying eligible populations and comparing funding requirements.
    • For many funding streams, there are rules and restrictions that govern the use of the funds. Therefore, it is important to identify eligible populations and understand the differences in eligibility and reporting requirements among various funding streams available in your state or locality.
  • Building and initiating data-sharing agreements to make it easier for state and local organizations to braid funds.
  • Developing shared goals and a plan for collaboration.
    • Permit local agencies, organizations, task forces, councils or committees to perform coordinated planning and funding functions outside a formal state framework.
    • Use interagency planning groups to coordinate funding for specific objectives.
  • Building state or local programs that use multiple funding streams rather than leaving it to individual provider level to pursue different funding streams.
  • Developing governance structures to support collaboration between agencies and other key players in state or local entities.

Wisconsin is one state that engages in braided funding to support Y&YAD. Wisconsin’s 2020-23 Combined State Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Plan prioritizes and directs state agencies to identify opportunities for braided funding to provide effective employment services to individuals with disabilities. Wisconsin’s WIOA Plan also directs cost-sharing to be negotiated among state entities, such as education, vocational rehabilitation (DVR) and local entities such as long-term care and mental health agencies. For example, cost-sharing may be negotiated among DVR, the school district and long-term care or mental health programs when there is an overlap in educational and employment/rehabilitation goals and services. This negotiation increases coordination between the various parties to ensure their specific funds contributed to the program or service are used for their designated purposes.

Similarly, the Wisconsin Departments of Health Services, Workforce Development and Public Instruction developed a comprehensive Transition Action Guide (TAG). This guide outlines a strategic approach to help Wisconsin state and local governments identify overlaps or gaps in service provision in the areas of communication, coordination and service delivery for Y&YAD transitioning from school to work. It lists funding sources and their eligibility requirements so agencies can pursue braided funding opportunities. The resource also discusses cost-sharing agreements among agencies and when these agreements are appropriate.

For more information and state examples of the benefits of braided funding efforts, review CAPE-Youth’s Improving Transition Services for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities through Braided Funding.

Black History Month: An Interview with Justin Tapp

By: Justin Tapp, Guest Contributor and Abeer Sikder, Policy Analyst

In honor of Black History Month, The Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth) recently discussed intersectionality and disability employment with Justin Tapp, graduate student and disability leader.

Youth and young adults with disabilities (Y&YADs) are a diverse community, in terms of not only disability type, but also race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status. While Y&YADs face barriers to education, training and employment, those who have intersectional identities may face additional challenges. For example, the jobless rate for Black Americans with disabilities (15.1 percent) in 2021 was higher than the rates for other racial minority groups. Yet Black Y&YADs and other Y&YADs with overlapping identities can also leverage their unique perspectives, strengths and support systems to address these challenges and promote greater inclusion in the workforce, across multiple factors.

Justin Tapp, who was born with Klippel-Feil syndrome and scoliosis, is an individual doing just that. Justin identifies as African American, LGBTQ+ and disabled. He earned a bachelor’s degree in disability studies and political science from the University of Toledo and is currently working toward a master’s degree in science in social administration from Case Western Reserve University. Previously, Justin was a 2019 Policy Fellow at RespectAbility and worked as a Learning Disability Specialist in higher education before taking on his current role at a community health organization.

Recently, Justin discussed his experiences in disability studies, self-advocacy and networking, as well as his thoughts on effective policy for supporting the success of future generations of diverse Y&YADs.

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Disability Mentoring: Benefits for Youth with Intersecting Identities

By: Luke Byram

January is National Mentoring Month. While mentoring relationships benefit all youth, they may have a particularly positive impact on youth who face barriers to education and employment—such as youth with disabilities and especially those who may have intersecting identities.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), disability mentoring occurs when a person with a disability provides advice and support to another person, usually someone with a similar disability. Mentoring can be short-term in nature, such as a single-day job shadowing opportunity or career exploration experience, which could occur on National Job Shadow Day on February 2, 2023 or on National Mentoring Day on October 27, 2023. Mentoring could also reflect a more robust ongoing relationship between a mentor and youth with regularly scheduled meetings focused on supporting the youth in planning and achieving their goals. The relationship often focuses on a specific task, such as living independently, recovering from a traumatic event, obtaining employment or transitioning into the workforce. The mentor serves as a role model and provides information and guidance specific to the mentee’s experiences and identified needs.

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CAPE-Youth Launches Long COVID Web Page

By Katherine Emerson

Current estimates show that 7.7 to 23 million people in the U.S. have experienced Long COVID or its associated conditions. The CDC defines Long COVID as anyone experiencing ongoing, long-term conditions as a result of having been infected with the COVID-19 virus. Long COVID symptoms can last weeks, months or even years. Furthermore, the symptoms of Long COVID can qualify someone as an individual with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if these symptoms substantially limit one or more major life activities, including employment and education. Youth and young adults with a Long COVID disability may need assistance understanding their disability, understanding their employment and education rights, and navigating systems of support.  

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Celebrating Disability Employment as a Key Component of a Diverse and Equitable Workforce

By Dominique DiSpirito and Abeer Sikder

Each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) celebrates the contributions workers with disabilities make to building a vibrant, resilient workforce. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) selects a theme for the month and shares resources for employers, policymakers and other workforce stakeholders. The theme this year, “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation,” recognizes “the vital role people with disabilities play in making the nation’s workforce diverse and inclusive.” The theme also highlights the intersectionality of disability with other systemic inequalities, such as racial and gender discrimination.

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Career and Technical Education Month

By: Sydney Blodgett

Observed each February, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month® celebrates the importance of CTE and the accomplishments of related programs across the nation. The Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) explains that “CTE is education that directly prepares students for high-wage, high-demand careers. CTE covers many different fields, including health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing, hospitality and management, and many more. […] CTE encompasses many different types of education, from classroom learning to certification programs to work-based learning opportunities outside the classroom.”

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National Disability Mentoring Month

By: Luke Byram, CAPE-Youth O’Connor Scholar Intern

January is National Disability Mentoring Month.

According to Partners for Youth with Disabilities Mentoring Director Kristin Humphrey, mentoring is a critical disability inclusion strategy that promotes positive academic, employment and independent living outcomes. Partners for Youth with Disabilities indicate that mentored youth:

  • are more engaged in school,
  • know more about their career options,
  • raise stronger voices as self-advocates and
  • find supportive communities more often.

The results of a 2014 study by MENTOR National show “that young adults who were at risk for falling off track but had a mentor were 130% more likely to hold leadership positions.” The same study shows that “mentored youth were 78% more likely to volunteer regularly and 90% were interested in becoming a mentor.” When youth have positive experiences with mentoring, they are more likely to become mentors themselves.

Students with disabilities benefit from work-based mentoring as much or more than their peers without disabilities. Work-based mentorship helps students with disabilities:

  • clarify academic and career interests,
  • fund education expenses,
  • apply knowledge gained in the classroom,
  • learn to navigate disability disclosure,
  • develop interpersonal and job search skills, and
  • network for employment after graduation.

Started in 2002 by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (MENTOR) and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, National Disability Mentoring Month focuses national attention on how mentors create positive outcomes for youth with disabilities. It also shows that when everyone works together, mentoring efforts can make an even bigger impact in young people’s lives. National Disability Mentoring Month aims to:

  • raise awareness of mentoring in its various forms,
  • recruit mentors and
  • recruit organizations to engage constituents in mentoring.

During National Disability Mentoring Month, national partners work with local leaders to organize special events in their communities and invite local media outlets and public officials to attend. These events also help engage adults who are interested in becoming mentors.

Every year, MENTOR holds an event called the National Mentoring Summit that brings together public and private-sector leaders who support the mentoring movement, including:

  • youth leaders,
  • government and civic leaders,
  • practitioners,
  • researchers,
  • philanthropists,
  • MENTOR Affiliates and
  • supporting partner organizations.

The National Mentoring Summit is an opportunity for the mentoring movement to advocate for a policy agenda that strengthens mentoring programs and practices. The 12th Annual National Mentoring Summit will be held as a hybrid event from January 26-28, 2022, in Washington D.C. 

Transition Services for Justice-Involved Youth & Young Adults with Disabilities

By Abeer Sikder

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that between 30-60% of youth involved in the juvenile justice system have a disability. This means that of the 36,000 youth in juvenile facilities in 2019, around 10,000 to 22,000 of them were likely to have a disability. With so many incarcerated youth and young adults with disabilities, the juvenile justice system should be prepared to provide the accommodations and supports necessary for youth and young adults with disabilities in its care to access educational and workforce training opportunities.

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