Allegheny County urged to create jobs office for disabled

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Allegheny County should create an office of employment accessibility and inclusion and set specific goals for hiring more people with disabilities, a new study recommends.

The Allegheny 365 report follows almost two years' worth of meetings and reviews. With representatives from business, academia, advocacy organizations and foundations, the committee was charged with developing an action plan to ensure "that all individuals, including those living with disabilities, could engage fully in the broad spectrum of county services 365 days of the year."

In a report released Thursday, committee members found that the county has complied with both the requirements and the spirit of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. The landmark civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on disability in areas including employment, transportation and access to public places.

"Although the committee applauds the commitment of the county ... the group concluded that a cultural and organizational metamorphosis was warranted to ensure that Allegheny County would lead the nation in its delivery of services to individuals with disabilities," the report said.

Rory Cooper, co-chairman of the committee, said the Allegheny 365 report could serve as a model for municipalities and counties across the United States.

"I am confident that it will make a positive difference in the lives of people with disabilities and their families in Allegheny County," he said of the report. Mr. Cooper is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

The Allegheny 365 committee was created in 2010 by then-county Executive Dan Onorato. His successor, Rich Fitzgerald, said he believed the committee's report contains "a great deal of information that may be helpful in making improvements to our county, its employees and residents."

Mr. Fitzgerald has given the disability report and a "gender and race equity audit," also requested by Mr. Onorato, to William McKain, the new county manager, for study and comment.

Mr. Fitzgerald set no deadline for Mr. McKain, who began work Wednesday, to make his recommendations.

Joyce Bender, committee co-chairman, said opportunities to compete and get jobs translates into freedom for people with disabilities. "The first question people ask is, 'What is your name?' " she said. "The second one is 'Where do you work?' Without employment, you are never really free."

"My dream is to make Pittsburgh known as the employable city for people with disabilities," said Ms. Bender, president of Bender Consulting Services.

In addition to creating the employment accessibility office and setting hiring goals, the Allegheny 365 report makes several other proposals.

They include hosting a summit of chief executive officers from major corporations to set hiring goals and to provide training for people with disabilities.

"The only way these [hiring] efforts will work is to have a commitment from the top," Ms. Bender said.

Mr. Cooper, who uses a wheelchair, saw creation of the accessibility and inclusion office as a top priority. "It would provide a single point of contact for the county, for employers and for people with disabilities," he said.

He said he hoped to see the summit meeting of business leaders happen within the next few months.

He said he was heartened by the participation of Mr. Fitzgerald at Allegheny 365 meetings that he attended as a representative of county council. Before being elected to his present job, Mr. Fitzgerald served as council president.

"It shows that he took a personal interest in the project," Mr. Cooper said.

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Len Barcousky: or 412-263-1159.


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