From Gongwer News Service, www.gongwer-oh.com
, October 22, 2014.
Task Force Discusses Need For Job-Training Center For Blind, Deaf
Members of a task force to recommend ways to integrate blind and deaf Ohioans into the workforce on Wednesday agreed the state needs a training center for the individuals.
Although discussion of a central Ohio center for disabled Ohioans was on all members' lists of priority recommendations, some were concerned the proposal would come with too high a price tag to come to fruition.
The Workforce Integration Task Force was created in the mid-biennium review to examine income levels and employment barriers facing blind or deaf Ohioans and to submit recommendations to the governor by Jan. 1, 2015 on how to better incorporate them into the workforce.
Deborah Keefer Kendrick, a blind member of the panel, said these individuals tend to land jobs based on their disability rather than their actual skill set.
"If they receive proper training for alternative skills, then their self-esteem is going to rise accordingly and they will be in a better position to look at jobs that match their dreams and their goals, rather than...be the square peg fit into a round hole because there happens to be a job open in something they don't care about," she said.
Ms. Kendrick said studies show that disabled individuals who are trained in an immersive setting of the sort the task force envisions have much higher job-placement success rates compared to training programs that last only a couple hours at a time.
John Moore, CEO and executive director of Deaf Services Center Inc., said the problem in the deaf community has always been a lack of skills and training.
"Historically, they would go to some manufacturing plant, learn whatever skills on the job, whether it's printing, manufacturing, whatever," he said through a sign language translator. "But nowadays a lot of deaf youth and deaf adults don't have those skills when they go out and look for those jobs. And employers are looking at them (and saying), 'Oh you don't have these skill sets already? Well, we're not going to hire you.'"
He said that communication and skills barriers result in deaf individuals relying more on government services rather than being tax-paying citizens.
"With these training centers, we would...enable them to have those skill sets when they go out and look for those jobs and avoid what we call in the deaf community that co-dependence on Social Security Disability, Medicaid/Medicare, and so on," Mr. Moore said.
Mr. Moore said the Ohio State School for the Blind and the Ohio School for the Deaf campus could provide the space for such a center. The property has the space; however, it does serve school-age children.
Sherill Williams, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness Ohio, said a center would likely cost "tens of millions" of dollars to build and staff. She said the General Assembly and governor would want data on the likelihood it would increase workforce integration.
Although Ms. Kendrick said she thinks she can access such data, Mr. Moore said he sees the financial aspect as a barrier.
"It's more of a long-term goal," he said. "There probably needs to be a lot of research, a lot of verification data. Where is the money going to come from, where is the money going to be spent in the state of Ohio?
He said Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Executive Director Kevin Miller, who was not present at the meeting, did not include the center on his list of priorities "probably knowing that a training center is going to be too expensive and too difficult to pass."
"I don't really want to let go of that idea, but is this something that's going to be feasible?" Mr. Moore asked.
Ms. Williams said the charge of the task force is to use data and other information to make recommendations that could be considered for inclusion in the next state budget proposal.
"If we don't think action can be taken on the establishment of a training center, there certainly are preliminary steps that could be considered to explore such or to form a task force to do the planning piece of that," she said.
"If there's some low-hanging fruit we can recommend that could be plucked now, there's probably a good likelihood some of it could see the light of day. So however we can maybe make the training center a piece that can be done as a low hanging fruit...might be worth considering."
Ms. Kendrick said she thinks the center is probably the group's "loftiest" recommendation but said she did not want to back away from the recommendation because including it could at least put it on the "radar" of Ohio lawmakers.
When John Weber, representative for Department of Job and Family Services Director Cynthia Dungey, asked if the center would be one or multiple sites or be treated as a pilot project, the task force members had slightly different visions for what it might entail.
Ms. Williams described it as a Columbus-based training center or a community-based site for employers to provide training to job seekers.
Ms. Kendrick said she thinks the training center is not just about job skills but those necessary for "all around independence."
Ms. Williams also suggested the project could be a virtual center so that it would be accessible throughout the state and not require individuals to move to Columbus temporarily. Ms. Kendrick countered in saying that other states have brick-and-mortar facilities for blind individuals
Comparatively, Mr. Moore said a cursory search for deaf centers resulted in only two - Texas and North Carolina. He also supported the idea of a physical center, saying as a deaf individual he would rather watch a live translator than one on a computer because of visual fatigue.
He also said training in, for example, auto mechanics cannot effectively be done in a virtual format.
He added that he thinks community colleges could provide instructors and training for certain employment fields or paths of studies and provide the instruction at the center.Gongwer News Service - Ohio
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