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The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

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Dr. Roy Grizzard interview

Friday, October 24th, 2003 - 20:00
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Dr. Roy Grizzard
Radio show date: 
Sat, 10/25/2003
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Dr. Roy Grizzard
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Monday, October 20, 2003

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I am Paul Lawrence, partner in charge of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. We created the Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about us by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

On the show, we have traditionally talked to government officials about their job and their leadership and management experiences. Today, however, we are doing something different. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. So today, we are holding a special show focusing on how the federal government supports that part of our workforce with disabilities.

Our guests today are Dr. Roy Grizzard, Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Good morning, Dr. Grizzard.

Dr. Grizzard: Good morning, Paul. I am delighted to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: And also joining us is Jim Gibbons, CEO and president of National Industries for the Blind.

Good morning, Jim.

Mr. Gibbons: Thank you, Paul; it is a pleasure to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. Grizzard, you are the first Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy. Could you tell us about your office?

Dr. Grizzard: The Office of Disability Employment Policy was created by the 2001 Appropriations Act, and we have been in the process of getting up and running. And we feel like now we are starting to hit our stride. Our responsibility and mission is to help to develop policies that will lower the barriers for the employment of people with disabilities. We have a full-time-equivalent staff of about 65 individuals, very dedicated and talented professionals, and we are beginning to work to develop some of those policies that we hope that will help to make a dent in the unemployment rate that is prevalent among people with disabilities.

Mr. Lawrence: Why now? I was surprised to learn it was the first office.

Dr. Grizzard: I think that Congress and others realized that the unemployment rate, which we believe hovers somewhere around 70 percent among people with disabilities, was quite high. It places a tremendous strain on the Social Security Trust Fund. So there was a decision made to improving or lowering that rate. So this particular agency was set aside at a sub-Cabinet level position within the Department of Labor to work on that very issue.

Mr. Lawrence: Jim, could you tell us more about the missions and activities of the National Industries for the Blind?

Mr. Gibbons: The National Industries for the Blind is focused; our mission is to enhance the economic and the personal independence of people who are blind. And we do that through creating and sustaining and improving employment. We’ve got a network of 85 associated agencies around the country, with operations in over 150 locations. And they have fabulous operational capabilities, both in manufacturing, service contracting and most importantly, they are enabling a belief in the capability of people who are blind. And they create enabling work environments that support independence.

The National Industries for the Blind really serves as the representative for those 85 agencies into the federal marketplace, and we serve as a program manager, a marketer, a business developer, and really a business arm in support of capabilities. Not only of those organizations, but the capabilities of the 5,000 blind people that work throughout that network of agencies.

Mr. Lawrence: And what is your role and responsibilities as the president and CEO?

Mr. Gibbons: Well, as the president and CEO, I serve not only as a spokesperson for the National Industries for the Blind, but I really serve as a servant to a lot of players. I serve as a person dedicated to ensure that we’re bringing best value to our federal customers. I work closely with the regulatory body called the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind Or Severely Disabled, which is a small, federal agency that really provides the oversight over the Javitz-Wagner-O’Day program. And I serve in both a leadership and a support capacity for our network of associated agencies to ensure that across the program, we are deploying programs, marketing programs, business development, new opportunity identification initiatives so that we can grow employment across the country and take a bite out of that 70 percent unemployment rate Dr. Grizzard referred to just a few moments ago.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. Grizzard, tell us about your role and responsibility in your office.

Dr. Grizzard: My role is similar in terms of the fact of providing leadership to that office. I look at myself as being one who has the responsibility administratively in giving oversight and leadership and management to the actual agency that is dealing with everything from personnel issues to budget issues to the very reason that we are there, and that is the development of policies and programs that will assist people with a wide range of disabilities to become employed, or people who are already employed who become disabled to be able to retain their position.

Further, I look quite a bit at my role in terms of being the public spokesman for the Office of Disability Employment Policy, getting out there and meeting with businesses across the country to give them an idea of the fact that people with disabilities can enhance their businesses; to sell them on the business model that it is good business for businesses to employ people with disabilities. And so I also find myself quite frequently being a spokesman, giving speeches and making remarks at various events across the country. So basically, I am the face of ODEP, if you will.

Mr. Lawrence: Both of you are involved in improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities. I wonder if you could describe for our listeners the experiences that led you to be interested in this area, as well as how you came to your current position.

Dr. Grizzard, let me start with you.

Dr. Grizzard: Well, Paul, as we were talking before we came into the studio a little while ago, my career actually began in the field of education. In fact, I was in education, public education, for about 27-1/2 in various capacities, most of it administratively. Over that period of time, I began to lose my vision. I had retinitis pigmentosa, which is a retinal disease that results in basically for the laity, I’ll just say it results in extreme tunnel vision. I have about a 10-degree field of vision. As that began to develop, I certainly became interested, not only in employment issues for people with low vision, or blind, but in terms of advocacy, and later, it led to me, at about the age of 50, being asked by then-Governor, now Senator Allen, to head the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired.

That agency provides comprehensive rehabilitative services, daily living services, rehabilitation services for people who are blind, vision impaired or deaf-blind. I headed that agency for eight years. It was during that period of time, in fact, that I became very familiar with the program of the National Industries for the Blind, because Virginia is one of the few states that actually within the state department actually runs the Virginia Industries for the Blind, which was our industry division.

So naturally in that, I was on various boards with other disability-related agencies, and became very aware of the entire comprehensive and wide-ranging issues related to people with disabilities: health issues, Medicare/Medicaid issues, rehabilitation issues, employment issues. And from that I was asked by President Bush to take the responsibility as the first Assistant Secretary of ODEP. So that’s where I am, and that is kind of a thumbnail sketch of how I got to this point.

Mr. Lawrence: Jim, how about you?

Mr. Gibbons: Well, I started my career after graduating from Purdue University in an industrial engineering program working in the telecommunications industry. I spent about seven years in a variety of operations jobs and then marketing jobs; and then decided to go to graduate school and I got my MBA at the Harvard Business School. It was an interesting experience for me because I was the first blind person to attend Harvard’s MBA program. And after graduating from both Purdue and the Graduate School of Business up at Harvard, in both situations, it was a very interesting experience in terms of employers’ reaction to my blindness.

I ended up going back to AT&T, and I worked in mergers and acquisitions, and that led me to running a company that we bought. I was the president and CEO of a wholly owned subsidiary. It was a software company with a small manufacturing piece out in Phoenix, Arizona. Never really thinking that I would enter into the field of blindness -- sometimes we affectionately call it the “blindness biz” -- I got a phone call from a search firm, and they were looking for a new CEO, and it was for me a career inflection point, I would say, in terms of did I want to step into this field, or continue to work in the pure business arena?

But the National Industries for the Blind has an incredibly interesting and exciting business model. We are a national not-for-profit organization. We do no charity fundraising. We really operate off of a commission structure on what we work with our associated agencies on and move our high-quality products or services in the federal marketplace. So it was really leveraging my business background to step into this. And so from a professional perspective, it gave me an opportunity to broaden my scope and scale, because our program is significantly bigger than the subsidiary that I ran for AT&T. And the scope is much wider. We have a wide range of product categories and offerings.

So for me, it was a decision professionally to kind of broaden my experience. And then personally as, could I shift from a guy that was maybe “successful” in the sighted world, and maybe over time have a great deal of influence, to maybe being a direct impact player for the people in our program. So maybe shift from that influence to a direct impact player on the lives of people who are blind, in terms of their employment goals and objectives.

Mr. Lawrence: Those were fascinating descriptions.

Since October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, it is natural to want to find out how this came to be established. We will find out more from our guests, Dr. Roy Grizzard of the Department of the Labor, and Jim Gibbons of the National Industries for the Blind, when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Paul Lawrence, and this morning’s conversation is with Dr. Roy Grizzard, Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor, and Jim Gibbons, CEO and president of the National Industries for the Blind.

Now, Jim, I was interested in your description of your career, to include being the first blind graduate of Harvard’s School of Business. And I’m curious; that struck me as unusual. One would have thought there would have been many more.

Mr. Gibbons: Well, you know, there have been a number of blind people who have graduated from Harvard’s undergraduate program -- very bright and talented folks. But in terms of the business arena, I would say that one of the reasons, at least in my humble observations since being in this business, is that the field of blindness historically has not been developing and coaching young blind talent into the business arena; it has often been into the individual contributor arena versus the leadership arena. So the individual contributors, such as attorneys, rehabilitation teachers, advocacy leaders, certainly, or computer scientists. So I think that might be one of the reasons that there hasn’t been a lot of blind folks kind of moving into the business management arena.

I think it is important for that to shift. And actually, this month is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and we have launched a new business leaders program at NIB and through our associated agencies, and it is a program that is specifically designed to develop blind professionals into managers, leaders and executives. Only about 10 percent of our 85 agency CEOs are blind. And I think it is important to build a pipeline of talent so that blind people are able to leverage this incredible operationally-intensive, business-intensive, infrastructure to create the experiences to grow into senior level positions. So it is a very exciting initiative that we have just kicked off.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. Grizzard, as Jim mentions, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Could you give us a history of this month and how Secretary Chao chose this year’s theme?

Dr. Grizzard: Disability Employment Awareness Month is an iteration of other names that have been applied to this month that started as far back as the late 1940s. It is a month in which Congress determined to look at the positive contributions that people with disabilities have made to the American labor force. And so it has been going on for quite some time. It is now a month in duration. It involves a lot of activities, both at the Department of Labor as well as other entities across the country who have a concern relative to employment matters for people with disabilities.

This year’s theme is “America works best when all Americans work,” and it is a theme that was developed by suggestions from a lot of talented individuals that eventually percolated up to the Secretary with a number of suggestions, and she chose that one. And I think that’s truly reflective of what we are all about, is full employment, gainful employment for people with disabilities.

We’ve been celebrating the month with a number of events, and it has been a very rewarding and positive month, and we still have several things to do over the course of this month. The thing is that for people with disabilities, we emphasize it this month, but I can ensure you that at the Department of Labor, and I am sure also at the National Industries for the Blind, that for us it is a 12-month, 365-day a year activity seeing that people get careers -- and I think that that’s one thing that my friend and colleague here was talking about. It’s not just a job, but a career. In other words, you move into something, but then you also move up.

Mr. Lawrence: Jim, give us a sense of the products and services that NIB provides. And could you tell us more about the Javitz-Wagner-O’Day Act?

Mr. Gibbons: Absolutely. First, the Javitz-Wagner-O’Day Act is a piece of federal legislation that was actually enacted in 1938 and then modified in the 1970s. It is an incredibly enabling piece of legislation that really leverages federal procurement to create real opportunities to work -- meaningful opportunities for employment for Americans who are blind or who have other severe disabilities. It is an Act that is really a ‘rubber meets the road’ kind of piece of legislation. And it is an incredible public/private partnership.

The federal agency that oversees it is, as I mentioned earlier, the Committee For Purchase From People Who Are Blind Or Severely Disabled, and the National Industries for the Blind is a private not-for-profit. Then we have associated agencies across the country. There is also another organization like the National Industries for the Blind called NISH, which focuses on creating employment for people with other severe disabilities, and they have hundreds of agencies across the country, employing tens of thousands of people with other severe disabilities. So it is a rubber meets the road piece of legislation.

I think how it has stood up through time is because of that public/private partnership. The private organizations truly bear the risk to try to endure through all of the environmental changes, procurement reform and other challenges, business challenges that we have. And the public component really ensures that the program has an integrity with both federal procurement and all federal policies. We really work to support the Committee For Purchase and our associated agencies in ensuring that Javitz-Wagner-O’Day Act is being implemented with excellence.

In terms of kind of other initiatives that the National Industries for the Blind are involved with in terms of products and services or solutions that we deliver to the federal marketplace, we have an office products line and we have a janitorial products line, and we market those under the Skilcraft brand, which 10 years ago was more of, I’d call it a trademark and things were delivered in nice, brown boxes. Now, it is a comprehensive line of products and solutions that are packaged and modernized to meet the needs and the missions of our federal government.

We have a great textile and plastics capability. We do Army physical fitness uniforms and canteens. We do a great deal of other textile products, and then we have developed a service capability these past seven or eight years where we do nationwide switchboard operations. We do call centers, we do warehousing and distribution, and through all of those new types of programs, we have enabling work environments that leverage both work station design as well as enabling technology to ensure that our employees throughout our network of agencies are engaged, are empowered and are productive.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. Grizzard, how does your office work to increase employment opportunities for adults and youths with disabilities?

Dr. Grizzard: We are in the process of beginning to develop policies that we feel will enhance the opportunities of people with disabilities to become employed. I think it is an important thing to remember about ODEP is that we do not have any regulatory or investigative or adjudicative powers. What we do is develop policy, and then, if you will, give them away to other agencies. And so, we work -- the term that I apply to what we do is -- we act as a catalyst to bring synergism among federal agencies that do have the power to actually implement programs, such as the Social Security Administration, the Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services, most particularly the Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services.

What we do is help them to look at potential policies that will change the culture, if you will, of people with disabilities, to encourage them to go to work. For instance, eliminating some of the barriers related to the loss of health insurance or Medicare/Medicaid if one goes to work and begins to make a solid income; to work with the Social Security Administration so that individuals might have that carrot dangling before them that they can accrue a certain amount of savings without losing benefits and then gradually being weaned off of those benefits as they move towards full employment; working with the Department of Transportation to help develop policies that will provide a wider variety of opportunities for people with disabilities to actually get to work.

One of the greatest barriers to employment for people with disabilities is transportation. One can have all of the skills and the abilities and the right attitude and want to work, and there can be the employer out there that is willing and ready to hire. But if one cannot get there, all is in vain. So that is one of the things that we do. We have grants that are provided across the country to various best demonstration projects, to innovative projects that target a particular population or a particular employment opportunity, and when we see those as being successful -- and that is the key ingredient; they have to be successful -- then we believe that those can be replicated in communities across the country. We also have a number of programs that perhaps I can get into a little later that actually have concrete activities that help people with disabilities, both youth and adults, to become employed.

Mr. Lawrence: That’s a good point to end.

How does the federal government and organizations like NIB work together, and what are the lessons learned? We’ll find out more from our guests, Dr. Roy Grizzard of the Department of Labor, and Jim Gibbons of the National Industries for the Blind, when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Paul Lawrence, and this morning’s conversation is with Dr. Roy Grizzard, Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor, and Jim Gibbons, CEO and president of the National Industries for the Blind.

Dr. Grizzard, before we went to break, you were talking about some the programs that you worked with and you said there are a few more. Could you describe them for us, please?

Dr. Grizzard: We have some things that we do directly that we believe greatly enhance and provide opportunity for youth and adults to become employed, who have disabilities. One is our workforce recruitment program. We refer to it as WRP. Last year, we recruited at about 186 colleges and universities across the country, where we recruited about 1500 young people, for the most part, and they were young people that would be graduating seniors from colleges with disabilities, the brightest and the best. We provided a CD-ROM for both private and public operations to give these young people an opportunity for a three-month internship. We had about 350 involved this last summer, most of them in federal government internships. Many of them retain their employment, because we had already screened and had the best and the brightest there.

Why is this an important program? Primarily for two reasons: Number one is that it gives these young people who probably -- many having disabilities -- have not the opportunity to learn those soft skills of employment. They haven’t had the opportunity to have part-time jobs and so forth as they came up as young people. So they learn what time to be to work, how to get along with their supervisors, how to be a team player in an office organization. How to dress appropriately.

Then, secondly it gives them an opportunity to develop a résumé and to network. Often, people with disabilities have not had an opportunity to participate on the sports teams, to participate with the choral groups or the band, or the fraternities and sororities. This gives them an opportunity to have a chance to develop a résumé and to network so that they have that in their background for future employment. We think that’s an exciting program.

We also have what we refer to as the Employment Assistance Referral Network, or EARN. It is a comprehensive website that is basically a clearinghouse, where individuals with disabilities can post their résumés, what their skills are, what their abilities are, where they will work, what part of the country they will work in, and we have it matched up with employers who are willing to employ those individuals. We also operate another site, but this is actually a call-up phone site , and it is referred to as the Job Accommodations Network, or JAN. All of these websites and so forth can be found by going to www.dol.gov/odep.

But Job Accommodations Network is a one-stop information center where there are experts on accommodation who can provide employers information on how to accommodate various disabilities. What type of excess technology is needed? Where is the best place to buy it? What is the best buy? If there are federal or state tax breaks available for the corporation that hires a person with a disability; any legal requirements for hiring people with disabilities. Comprehensive information there.

They will even look at a scenario of what the skills and the abilities are of the person, potential employee, and what the essential requirements of the job are, and help to work that employer through accommodating for that individual. We even find that it is used quite frequently when employers have individuals who are going to be temporarily disabled because of some type of a medical or physical condition or operation, and they are able to retain those people in that job even during that temporary disability period. Those are some direct, hands-on, if you will, and concrete programs that we operate that transcend the more esoteric policy that we develop.

Mr. Lawrence: Jim, I was interested when you described the products and services that were offered by NIB, as to what a wide range that was. Is that something new, as the range expands?

Mr. Gibbons: You know, it’s really tracked over history. The National Industries for the Blind grew out of what people might know as the sheltered workshop movement. Over the course of time, where in the early 1900s, blind people made mops and brooms; over the course of time as the organization moved forward and created more opportunities, we rolled into a wide range of product offerings and really rolled out of this “sheltered” mindset into really competitive, affirmative enterprises that have a fundamental and basic belief in the capabilities of people who are blind. And that fundamental and basic belief in people’s capabilities is really what has allowed us to kind of move forward into the future.

The offerings that we have today range from national switchboard contracts with the Air Force Air Mobility Command, to warehousing and distribution contracts with the Defense Logistics Agency, where we have people who are blind providing every function within that supply chain arena. Whether it is picking and packing or shipping and receiving, it uses technologies to ensure that the high quality standards that our customers expect can be delivered, and that technology, coupled with an incredibly talented and dedicated workforce, delivers that high quality, high value equation into our customer base.

We have folks here in Virginia, at Virginia Industries for the Blind, or here in the Washington, D.C. area, have a variety of contracts. Whether it is the Army’s physical fitness uniforms, or customer service training programs that result in call centers and other kind of service contracting opportunities for Virginians who are blind. And, quite frankly, our program is truly empowered by Congress under this legislation. But it is more than just Congress. It is members of Congress, Dr. Grizzard mentioned George Allen, who has been through our Virginia facilities, knows people by name. Tom Davis, who is the Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, is a JWOD champion, and really gets not only business, not only policy, not only procurement, but gets the needs and hopes and dreams of people who are blind and have other disabilities.

So the program clearly creates those kind of employment opportunities for all of us. And Paul, you know, when you go to a holiday party at the end of the year and you meet somebody new, people ask, “What do you do?” It’s important in this country, and work is important. That’s the exciting thing. Not only do these programs allow us to create great opportunities, they allow us to create dignity, and quite frankly, as a blind person, they allow us to support our troops. Because about 70-or-so-percent of the work we do is really with the Department of Defense or the Air Force or the Navy. So it’s fabulous.

One other quick thought is that in our Seattle-associated agency, we have blind and deaf-blind individuals who use computer-aided manufacturing equipment that have all been accessible with both Braille and speech output, and they mill and grind over 10,000 parts for Boeing aircrafts. So that is the extent, that is the broad range of capabilities, both operationally and individually, that this program really enables.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. Grizzard, earlier, you told us about the grants program, and I’m curious if you could tell us a little bit about it. But, even more importantly, how do you hold the grantees accountable for the money they get?

Dr. Grizzard: Well, I think that’s one of the most important things is accountability. Because that money is your money, my money, it’s the taxpayers’ money of the United States, and so it is very important for me, for the Department of Labor, Secretary Chao and the President to show that the monies that are supporting these programs are being well-used, well-managed, and bearing results. And so for those grants that we have, we have a criteria that they must produce results, that there must be a cause-and-effect relationship between the targeted audience or program of the grant and the results. And the results must show people with disabilities going to work; people with disabilities beginning to have a positive impact on their local economy, their state economy, their national economy; a reduction of those that are on SSI and SSDI.

And so we internally, within ODEP, are quarterly evaluating the results of those grants. Then we are currently preparing to contract with an outside source that will also provide additional analysis and evaluation and assessment of those grants. Because I think that it is very important to have that objective view if the grant is doing the job that it is supposed to do.

Now, my part of the country where I come from, it’s almost hunting season. And we have an old saying down there, it might not be the best of English, but “if that dog ain’t gon’ hunt, we ain’t gon’ feed it.” And so, in essence, if those grants do not bear positive results, they are not going to be replicated. We are looking for success stories, and we are beginning to see them.

Mr. Lawrence: An interesting point; certainly a great expression.

Rejoin us in a few minutes when we continue our conversation with Dr. Roy Grizzard of the Department of Labor, and Jim Gibbons of the National Industries for the Blind.

This is The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Paul Lawrence, and this morning’s conversation is with Dr. Roy Grizzard, Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor, and Jim Gibbons, CEO and president of the National Industries for the Blind.

Jim, you were talking about doing business with the federal government. I’m curious, could you tell me some of the lessons learned?

Mr. Gibbons: I guess if I were try to nutshell it for you, it’s pretty simple. What I’ve learned is when you are dealing with this marketplace; there is no treading water. You’ve got to innovate, you’ve got to utilize technology, and you’ve got to perform. This administration is really driving performance management systems. And for organizations like ours to be successful and to grow employment and to grow business and to grow services to people who are blind, we’ve got to innovate, we’ve got to use technology. The use of technology, both in terms of enabling workstations. The technology that is available to me or to Roy or to potential employees or employees that exist in current workforces is fabulous. Microsoft Office suite is very accessible. We do innovative things in terms of -- we run a switchboard with the V.A. where we have used digital video technology to convert lights into audio sounds so that emergency situations can meet the specs required by that customer. The technology is out there; it is not that expensive. It’s very usable.

The government, I think, does an excellent job of supporting its employees. The challenge is how do we get the broader community to have that basic belief in the capabilities of people who are blind. We’ll have to continue innovating in our situation with commercial partners, with small business. We’ve got great relationships with small business throughout the country. We’ve got great relationships with big business throughout the country.

Our organizations do not have a strong competency in R&D, so we have to leverage other capabilities to do so, and treading water is not an option for what we do. So utilizing technology and innovating, and at the end of the day, everything we do is tied to the results of our efforts, whether that is in mission-related goals and objectives, growth in employment, growth in the broader scope of employment opportunities or business objectives in the sales and budget arena. Everything is linked to our performance management system, our balance score card, per se.

We have no choice but to continually accept that the bar is being raised, but it is being raised by our federal customers because of the pressures that are being put on them by taxpayers, by Congress, and we accept those challenges, because we know that as that bar is raised, we get stronger and better and we get more capabilities. So that at the end of the day, the work that we do becomes sustainable employment.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. Grizzard, earlier in our conversation, you talked about unemployment being at the 70 percent range. That strikes me as high. And two, I’m curious, how do you know it is 70 percent?

Dr. Grizzard: The fact is is that we don’t know precisely. We think it’s in that 70 percent range. It could be a little bit higher, particularly for certain disabilities. It might be a little bit lower. It varies across the country. You know, the great American philosopher Yogi Berra once said that if you didn’t know where you are going, you might not get there. What we are doing is currently trying to find out exactly where it is that we are going, what that target number is, so that we will be able to implement programs and policies that address the various permutations of disability.

Therefore, we have entered into a project with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, and are currently field testing a better device for coming up with a more accurate number of what the unemployment rate is, what the various permutations of that rate is. In other words: gender, areas of the country, race -- all of those types of items that might help to get a better handle on exactly what that number is, and therefore, will help us as we develop policies to ameliorate whatever that number is. The bottom line is this, though: we know that it is an extremely high rate when compared with the employment rates of the rest of the American workforce.

Mr. Lawrence: Both of you have described the advances made in employing people with disabilities, but I am curious, from both of your perspectives, what are the biggest barriers still yet to be addressed.

May we start with you first, Jim?

Mr. Gibbons: I think that work that Dr. Grizzard and his department are doing in terms of really promoting and getting this country, this society and the government to understand the capabilities of people with disabilities is very important. Because I think that is one of the underlying kind of currents that takes place is that people don’t start out with that basic belief. They don’t suspend disbelief. In an interview, people think about, if they are sitting across from a blind person, they’re going to think, “Boy, could I do my job if I were blind?” What they don’t know is that person has already gone through a great deal of experiences to develop their skills to be able to go do whatever they are interviewing for. So I think that is one basic hurdle.

For us across our network of associated agencies, we have continual challenges for our program, in that the Javitz-Wagner-O’Day Act is a fabulous piece of enabling legislation, but there are a lot of other pressures being baked into it in terms of procurement reform, gaining efficiencies, cost reduction. And we focus on growing employment. From a competitive perspective, people look to reduce employment, reduce the variable costs, and we’re trying to grow that to create that social value. And I think it is a social and economic value for the whole society. And so that is our challenge, given the constraints that we operate under. But I think we’ll meet that challenge, because we just build great business capabilities and operational capabilities to surround our very talented, talented workforce.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. Grizzard, barriers still to be addressed?

Dr. Grizzard: I think so, but I think we see many barriers have fallen. But that doesn’t mean that the job is over. We at ODEP look at the supply and the demand side to this equation of the employment of people with disabilities. The standpoint of the supply side is looking at various techniques that will assist people with disabilities to be skill-ready, ready to go to work, have the right attitude. Be able to take advantage of various technologies and access technologies that are there available to them to go to work.

Some of our grants are targeted to that. For instance, telework. Notice I didn’t say telemarketing; I just said telework. The work is taken to the person. The person doesn’t have to go to work. It avoids the barrier of transportation. That’s just one small technique, there. Then on the demand side, we are working with major corporations, both large Fortune 500s as well as small businesses, to let them know, on the demand side, that their pool for potential employees just got larger. If we look at the demographics, in the next decade, by the end of this decade, there could be a tremendous gap between the number of people that are needed by companies to do their work and the potential supply of those individuals. We believe that is a fertile field to be cultivated for people with disabilities.

But the bottom line is this for businesses: is that it is good business for businesses to employ people with disabilities. Why? First, because people with disabilities have large sums of discretionary income, and they, their families and friends are going to spend that money where they feel welcomed and where there is a disability-friendly atmosphere from that employer. Secondly is that at the end of the day, those people with disabilities are going to be good, loyal employees, and they are going to help that business meet their corporate goals, their production goals, their customer service goals. And so it is good business from that standpoint.

And then finally is this: in this competitive and global market, a business cannot afford to overlook anyone, a person with a disability, because that individual might become that employee that helps them to develop the next iteration of product or service that will actually do much on the positive side of the bottom line for that business.

Mr. Lawrence: I’m afraid we are out of time. I want to thank you both for fitting us into your very busy schedules. But I want to give each of you a chance to perhaps refer our listeners to someplace where they could learn more about your organizations.

Let me start with you, Jim. Where would I go to learn more about NIB?

Mr. Gibbons: To learn more about the National Industries for the Blind, it is very easy, you can go to www.nib.org, or if you want to learn more about the Javitz-Wagner-O’Day program from even a broader perspective, you can go to www.jwod.gov.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. Grizzard, how would I learn more about many of the things you talked about this morning?

Dr. Grizzard: There are 2 websites to contact. First is the ODEP website itself. That is www.dol.gov/odep. And the other one is one that we manage and developed and brought online at the request of the President one year ago this month. And that is www.disability.gov. Paul, that particular website has received 30,000,000 hits in 12 months from over 160 countries. It is a comprehensive website of everything that you would want to know related to any disability issues: health, EEOC, education, even emergency preparedness. And that website is www.disability.gov, one word.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you, Dr. Grizzard.

This has been The Business of Government Hour.

Be sure and visit us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and you can also get a transcript of this fascinating conversation. Once again, that’s www.businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Dr. Roy Grizzard interview
10/25/2003
Dr. Roy Grizzard

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