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  Ability Blog Archives

Gears icon This monthly journal from DARS' employment specialists focuses on what's trending in the workplace especially related to disability employment and workforce development.

Try an Unpaid Work Experience Before you Hire

DARS and Lowe's Collaborate for Spring Hiring

Inclusion and Opportunity for All

Carilion employees learn ...

Changes to Section 503...

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Try an Unpaid Work Experience Before you Hire

Business Development Manager Cindy RobertsWhat is an Unpaid Work Experience?
An unpaid work experience is DARS? version of an internship for our consumers. Businesses understand this terminology and our job seekers view this in a more much professional manner and want to participate.

How does it work?
Through a work experience program, a business agrees to help the Division of Rehabilitative Services' job candidate learn about a career firsthand. While the individual trains with the employer, DRS may pay for some expenses, such as gas or meals. The duration of the work experience varies, but usually lasts four weeks. The agency provides medical insurance for the job candidate during the candidate?s participation in the program. Businesses get a free opportunity to interact with potential future employees. These workers are not guaranteed a job by the host employers, but will meet and work with one or more persons who may agree to serve as a reference.

Why use the work experience?
The program succeeds for the DARS job candidate because it builds work experience and a resume, clients can receive a letter of recommendation, and it helps the client explore explore careers and build confidence. The work experience often leads to employment. Like traditional internships, DARS job seekers can participate in more than one work experience.

Success Stories
A recent college graduate with a degree in environmental science was struggling to find work. He was placed in a work experience with the Department for Conservation and Recreation, which turned into a paid internship. This strengthened his job skills and resume and provided him with valuable work experience. The employer gave him a letter of recommendation as well as a solid reference. He then found full-time employment with the Department for Soil and Water Conservation and credits DARS and the unpaid work experience for helping to launch his career.

A business school graduate of Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center was placed in a work experience with local city government. Due to his disability, his work experience was extended so he could gradually become accustomed to working a full day. He learned to work as a team player and was greatly valued by his supervisor, the Commissioner of Revenue. He eventually was hired for a full-time position and recently celebrated his ninth year in the Commissioner of Revenue's office. He has an excellent job and established career and now speaks on behalf of DARS and the unpaid work experience program.

Would you be interested in hosting a DARS client in an unpaid work experience?  E-mail Cindy Roberts or visit for more information.

Business Development Manager Cindy Roberts, April 2015

DARS and Lowe's Collaborate for Spring Hiring

Business Development Manager LaPearl Smith Spring is near and Lowe's is ramping up its hiring for the home improvement company's busiest season. DARS' statewide offices and Lowe's joined forces this winter to enhance the recruiting of people with disabilities at Lowe's local stores. District human resource managers have directed store HR managers to coordinate efforts with DARS' business development managers and job placement staff to make this happen.

This month, I had the opportunity to participate in a presentation given by Rashaad Williams, human resource manager at Lowe's in Alexandria. Rashaad met with vocational rehabilitation counselors and employment services staff at the Alexandria DRS office, giving staff the opportunity to ask questions regarding expectations for the positions, the application process and assessment, schedule requirements and background checks. Rashaad then met with several job candidates from the Alexandria area who expressed interest in positions from loss prevention to cashier to overnight stocker.

Both the staff and job candidates noted that it was helpful to have such a high level of engagement with the person who hires. Jeannine Langrin, placement counselor in the Manassas DRS office, reports that John Liebermann, HR manager at the Gainesville Lowe's, and Carolyn Bennett, HR manager at the Manassas Lowe's, came to the Manassas office and met with candidates regarding current and future positions. John also came to the Manassas Job Club and did practice interviews with DRS consumers, focusing on the behavioral questions that sometimes challenge job applicants.

Future joint events with Lowe's are scheduled at DRS offices in Danville, Hampton, Lynchburg, Norfolk, Petersburg and Richmond and future events in Fairfax, Fredericksburg and Leesburg. Several Lowe's managers have participated in Commonwealth Workforce Network meetings along with Virginia Workforce Center events. We hope that this cooperative effort with Lowe's stores across Virginia will become a win-win for Lowe's recruitment and our job candidates. Together, we can say we 'never stop improving.'

Business Development Manager LaPearl Smith, February 2015

Inclusion and Opportunity for All

DARS Commissioner Jim Rothrock Twenty-five years ago, on a very hot and humid July day, I was fortunate to be present for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the White House Rose Garden. Several thousand disability advocates were there to witness this, the manifestation of the federal intent to end discrimination against Americans with disabilities and open employment options to the hundreds of thousands Americans who were able to work, wanted to work, yet were excluded from the workplace due to physical, communication and attitudinal barriers.

President George H.W. Bush had supported this bipartisan initiative along with Sens. Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, Bob Dole and Orrin Hatch. The loudest applause I have ever heard came when the president ended his speech with the following declaration:

"Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down."

Yet now, a quarter of a century later, we see that of the 3.6 million Virginians who are employed, just 153,000 of them are Virginians with disabilities. This indicates an underutilization of this untapped resource among the gainfully employed. About 36 percent of Virginians with disabilities participate in the labor force compared with 76 percent of Virginians without disabilities.

We can do better.

President Obama has proclaimed October to be Disability Employment Awareness Month as part of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness and honor the contributions of America's workers with disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Labor's theme for this year's observance is 'Expect. Employ. Empower.' It strives to convey that advancing disability employment is about much more than hiring; it is about creating a continuum of inclusion in the labor force.

An estimated 1 in 5 Virginians will have a disability at some point in life. It is not just the commonwealth's policy but our collective responsibility to encourage these individuals, including our wounded warriors, to participate fully and equally in the social and economic life of the commonwealth. We all benefit from increasing opportunities for meaningful employment for people with disabilities.

Read the full article here.

DARS Commissioner Jim Rothrock, October 2014

Carilion employees learn from Project SEARCH students

Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Nora Tucker For the past four years, one of the largest employers in Southwest Virginia, Carilion New River Valley Medical Center, has served as a host site for Project SEARCH, a national program for students with autism, intellectual or learning disabilities.

Project SEARCH provides high school students with disabilities a hands-on training program during their last year of high school. Students work in a health care or business setting, with the goal of gaining employment by the end of the school year. In Virginia, the program is coordinated by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, the Virginia Department of Education and local public schools systems.

Each year, students complete an application and interview to be selected as one of six or so students from Montgomery County to participate in the nine-month program at the hospital in Christiansburg. Students have a teacher and job coach to guide them as they rotate through internships in different departments and become part of the hospital workforce.

Carilion employees have embraced these students. They serve as advocates, teachers, friends, colleagues and supporters, and learn from them as well, such as finding alternative ways to do a job.

"This program is value-added for all involved - administration, employees, patients and visitors. I feel that we have gained as much and are as fulfilled as the students who come through the program, and they are such a joy to be around," said Rita Turpin, human resources, employee relations at Carilion and one of the liaisons for Project SEARCH.

Project SEARCH Graduates

Ultimately, the internships give these students a true appreciation of work, learning what is expected of them on the job and being held to the same standards and values as other Carilion employees, especially in their customer service skills.

Carilion has hired five Project SEARCH students, but graduates have also found full-time jobs with other employers, including Montgomery County Schools and Holiday Inn.

Read about the Project SEARCH program here.

Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Nora Tucker, June 2014

Changes to Section 503 highlight responsibilities of federal contractors

Business Development Manager Melissa Edmonds Federal contractors are taking note of changes to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that went into effect March 24. The new rules implement 2008 amendments to the ADA and mean that federal contractors must take affirmative actions in hiring people with disabilities.

The hiring goal for federal contractors and subcontractors is that 7 percent of their workforce be qualified individuals with disabilities. It also details specific actions contractors must take in the areas of recruitment, training, record keeping and policy.

How can DARS help with meeting your goals?
Recruitment can be accomplished in several ways. Federal contractors can ask job applicants or current employees to voluntarily self-identify their disability before the job is offered. This has concerned many federal contractors for its perceived potential to violate the ADA, but it does not, according to the EEOC, which has offered guidance on the issue. They should also invite their employees to voluntarily self-identify every five years.

DARS staff can provide disability sensitivity training to businesses or community organizations so that they may assist individuals to feel comfortable in self-disclosing disabilities to potential employers.

Secondly, DARS can assist federal contractors with recruiting qualified individuals for open positions. DARS offers no-cost services to employers to help with their employee recruiting, screening, training and retention efforts.

DARS has a variety of pre-screened individuals with all levels of education and experience who are ready to go to work. Contact your local DARS office for more information.

Resource: Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs

Business Development Manager Melissa Edmonds, April 2014