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Oct 21, 2021

Full Transcript

In episode 6 of Manager Minute, employment and VR take center stage during October's National Disability Awareness Month. David D’Arcangelo, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB), and Natasha Jerde, Director of State Services for the Blind of Minnesota (SSB), join Carol Pankow to talk about the state of employment, today's challenges, and the initiatives and practices they implemented to improve employment for individuals with disabilities.


Learn how David and his team at MCB increased their customer base by 25% over the last year and how partnerships and creativity in Minnesota are helping to increase the number of people with disabilities being employed.


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Partnering with State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies (SVRAs) to enhance service delivery and maximize outcomes through quality program and resource management. 

The purpose of the VRTAC-QM is to provide training and technical assistance that will enable State VR agency personnel to manage available resources, improve effective service delivery, and increase the number and quality of employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. The VRTAC-QM provides TA and training in VR program and performance quality management, fiscal and resource quality management of the VR program, and general quality management of organizations. You can request technical assistance from the VRTAC-QM by contacting your TA Liaison directly, contacting any member of the Center you wish, or by filling out the information on our main website and clicking on submit. While on the main website, join our mailing list to receive updates on training and new activities occurring within the center. 


Full Transcript:


Speaker1: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management conversations powered by VR, 1manager at a time, 1 minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.


Carol: So welcome to the manager minute, I am so excited to have David D’Arcangelo, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, and Natasha Jerde, Director of State Services for the Blind in Minnesota. Thank you both for joining me today. Natasha, you've been in your position for two years now. So how's it going in Minnesota?


Natasha: Well, first, thanks for having me, Carol. And for others, I'm actually filling in for detail magazine with Minnesota General, so I am representing both. So I will speak globally and with Minnesota. We are definitely going through a state of evolution because not only are we going through COVID, we are also one of the states that really are going through the racial reckoning that's been happening when George Floyd was murdered. So we are having a lot of diversity and inclusion efforts in addition to trying to figure out what VR is going to look like in this new era. So it's been a challenge, but it's also been an opportunity as well.


Carol: Yeah, it definitely has been a heavy load and thank you for pinch hitting for Dee, too. I knew you could represent both, so that's great. And David, I saw you just had your three year anniversary in August. So how are things in Massachusetts?


David: Thanks for having me on. Things in Massachusetts are going well. I'm excited to talk about all of the various programs that we have. We haven't let COVID stop us at all. We continue to move forward. We're doing realignment projects. We've done a bunch of those that we'll talk about. Hiring is up good things happening in Massachusetts. I know we're going to go into more detail.


Carol: Good to hear it. Well, October is designated as a National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and when I was thinking about an October topic, well, it just made perfect sense to talk about employment and VR. David, I remember last year when we were on a call with RSA and they were highlighting VR's 100th anniversary. You presented what was happening at the Mass Commission and you really had some exciting things happening for customers during the pandemic. And I love following all the work that you do on your social media and I saw y'all have a podcast as well. And Natasha, I know your team well, and they're always creating some wonderful ways to build partnerships with employers and create interesting and lasting relationships that have helped to improve employment opportunities. And you're also a really good partner with Minnesota General. I know two years ago we held the roundtable and recognition of employers in Minnesota during this very month to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month. I just wanted to talk for a second about some Bureau of Labor Statistics and as I was looking things up as of August 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that unemployment rates for persons with disabilities are 11.5 percent, compared to five point one percent for persons without disabilities. And the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities is 35.6 percent, compared to 75.8 percent for working age people without disabilities.

Now, the labor force participation of people with disabilities is higher than it was prior to the pandemic, and John O'Neill, he's the director of the Center for Employment and Disability Research at the Kessler Foundation. He said that this actually has been a bright spot during the pandemic as people with disabilities, and he thought maybe out of economic necessity remained engaged in the labor market. He says the last time that we saw labor force participation at this level was July of 2009. But even given all of that, you know, that bright spot, much work needs to be done to increase the number of people with disabilities in the labor force, which really ties directly to the mission of VR. So I know these past 18 months have definitely been a challenge for you both pivoting to remote work for your staff, figuring out new ways to provide services to your customers and figuring out the reality of this new world of work. And in some ways, I'm really hopeful that the pandemic has proven there are new ways in which work can be done that's going to benefit our consumers in the end. So let's dig in. So, Natasha, can you paint us a picture of your agency? Like, how many people are you serving right now? Do you currently have a waiting list and how are your employment numbers looking?


Natasha: I have both Minnesota blind and general here at Minnesota Blind. We're at about 650 individuals we're currently surveying. And if you look at 2, 3, 4 years ago, we were usually in the 700’s. So our applications are still down, but they are trending upwards. We haven't had a waiting list for a few years. All categories are open. Our employment numbers are slowly trending upwards. 2021 brought much higher well, not much higher, 3 higher than 2020. But we are looking to get back our 2019 numbers slowly but surely. And as for Minnesota General, they've had a downward trend. There are about 2000 fewer applications and serving 11 percent fewer applicants than they did in the previous year. Our numbers are pretty on par with the national trends. Minnesota General has been offering services to all people on the waiting list. They reopened their final 2 priority for service categories, which had been closed since the fall of 2014. They have effectively eliminated the waiting list. They are seeing rates of employment at the time of exit decrease overall about 13 percent decrease, which is very identical to the national trends.


Carol: That's big news, though on the waiting list, that's good stuff. That is really good stuff for both of you. So, David, paint us a little picture of your agency.


David: Basically, everything I'm going to talk about is on our website. So let me just start with that. If people hear something that resonates with them, please use us as a resource. We want to collaborate with you. Go to Mass.Gov/MCB Mass.Gov/MCB and find out all that's going on with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. We've seen a 25 percent increase over our previous year in terms of VR despite the pandemic, so that's really a testament to our team, our counselors, and most especially though, the consumers we work with who have persevered and there's just a lot of opportunity in Massachusetts. Some of that might be related to the pandemic, actually. You know, COVID has put real strain on the health care system. We've seen hiring there. But even other service industry things, we've seen hiring there to go back to John O'Neill's data point, which I believe in John very much and Andrew out Anvil that does the entire program first Friday of the month at noon, I faithfully listen to the number come out and they do a great job since the data has been collected in 2008.

Yeah, I mean, we made a great amount of progress that COVID happened. We slid all the way back and now we've slowly regained. So at least we're back to where we were, which I think is a good thing for people with disabilities. Specifically to Massachusetts, though, we've seen that, we've seen our VR program increase and consumers typically we have, you know, somewhere between 850 and 950. Now we're at about 1050, 1038 consumers. Exactly, actually that we served as of June 30 at the end of the fiscal year. And of that, we had 155successful closures, and many of those were six figure closures. We had a significant amount of people that got a high level job, so that's very encouraging to us and we've had some good results. I know we're going to talk about some of the specific programs we're looking at pre X, we're looking at the mid-career professional and even older adults who want to reenter the workforce or continue to work beyond retirement age.


Carol: That is super exciting news. It really is. I love it. That's what I remember you talking about with RSA when we were doing that. Other call it like a year ago, like these six figure positions, that's that's incredible. So now that we've gotten this kind of picture of what's going on in general with your agencies, let's just look a little bit at the overall employment picture in each of your states. So what's your employment rate kind of look like and what are your hot employment markets and sectors? And David, I'll go to you first. I know you started a little bit on this. I'll let you expand.


David: Yeah, as I indicated, health care remains strong. In Massachusetts, we're hovering right around five percent for the general unemployment number. Our labor participation rate among the general population remains strong. Unfortunately, among people with disabilities, we're still looking at around two thirds of all working age people with disabilities who are not in the labor force. To me, that's job one, right? That's job one for our agency, for our counselors, is engaging our consumers and trying to get them resolved to want to work. That, I think, is because before you can get the job, we know how to get them the job once they're resolved, but they've got to be resolved to want to work. So that's job one. Then the second part is getting them a job, which is it's not easy, but it's easier, right? I think we're doing well. We've put together public awareness campaigns to really try to get out there. We use actually real allotment dollars from RSA to launch our What's Your Vision campaign, which we're out on TV with 30 second ads. We've been in print or on social media again, go to mass dot gov food slash MQB to check out the full campaign. I know there was a plethora of real dollars coming from RSA, so if you're looking for something to do with those dollars, we've proved the proof of concept that you can do it and it can be effective because we're having more people come to MQB.


Carol: Very cool. Yeah, I'm looking forward to looking at that link. So Natasha, how about you? What's going on with the employment overall? The picture in Minnesota?


Natasha: Minnesota is looking great. Our unemployment rate is at 3.8percent, which is well below the national average. Our labor force participation rate is 67.8 percent for all individuals and about 48 percent of Minnesotans with a disability are employed, and that's compared to about 38.8 percent nationally. So the numbers are looking great. And when you're asking about hot jobs across the board, everything is hot right now. Job vacancies are at a record number. Employers across the state are reporting difficulty finding workers. The demand is especially high in health care and social assistance. But those other areas that really were hit hard during the recession, including food service, hospitality, those are soaring right back.


Carol: Wow, thank you for that. So it's no secret that the pandemic had a huge impact on employment and the economy as a whole. But can you tell us how the pandemic has affected employment for the customers you serve in particular? And are there any lessons you learned during these past 18 months you're putting into place for the long term and attached? I'm going to punt that one to you first.


Natasha: We actually had a lot more opportunity than challenge when COVID hit, so we did have a number of individuals with disabilities who were laid off primarily because they were in the service and hospitality industry, and that was hit especially hard. But with COVID, it really showed that teleworking is completely and utterly doable, and all of these job postings we're seeing now are for remote workers. And when you're working with people who have transportation barriers who also live in very rural settings, this has been incredible and they're getting jobs and we're able to accommodate those jobs. The biggest struggle, though, is because we are so remote and virtual is accessibility issues, and we've been doing a lot of education of employers, of our own employer, the state of Minnesota, how to make sure everything is accessible so that if someone is working virtually, they can still do their job. And how we implement accommodations in a virtual world look very different. I think our biggest lesson learned is you just need to roll with it. You have to be flexible and you can't get locked into the way you used to do things. So we did things we didn't think was actually possible. We've done virtual adjustment to blindness training. We've even done virtual job site accommodations where they would walk us around on their phone or their laptop showing us the worksite, and we had been able to give suggestions and ideas how to accommodate without ever leaving our house. You just have to throw the book out the window is what we learned.


Carol: I bet your team has been super busy. I bet those guys are just like, Wow, but it's got to make the work super interesting.


Natasha: It's so much fun. I have never seen such creativity as I have these past 18 months. We have tried anything and everything, and it's been incredible. We're going to use a lot of those things from here on out.


Carol: Oh, very cool. So, David, I know you guys are always super innovative at the mask commission. So what about you? Tell us about how these last 18 months have impacted you and employment for your customers and kind of any lessons you've learned?


David: Yeah, really. Just a big credit goes out to our team and our consumers, one for being resilient. And we closed Friday, March 13 at five o'clock and we were open for business Monday morning, 9:00 a.m. Our counselors were already equipped with mobile laptops. Aware, which is our case management system, is all in the cloud, so we were positioned well to be able to work in this remote environment. So that's helped our counselors and our team. But additionally, I got to agree in Natasha's right, and I think you all listening to this podcast will agree the amelioration of transportation as a barrier or at least the significant amount of that as a barrier has been a game changer. It's really a paradigm shift and is unlocked. So many potentials for not only blind people, but all people with disabilities. I think that the permanence of that opportunity is a huge takeaway, a silver lining. Covid is a very serious situation. A lot of people have suffered, so I don't want to say it's a great thing because we wouldn't want to trade that right. But this is really help people with disabilities. And I think in the long term, it's going to continue to help them. I think that's the top of the full thing. And how can we leverage that even further? Is there are things we can collectively go to RSA for or I think, you know, Carol, I also sit on the National Council on Disability. Although I'm here as commissioner today, I'm trying to influence people on the federal level to think outside the box. And let's consider if there are other ways that we can leverage, whether it's being online or any technology that we can use to bring to bear for the benefit of people with disabilities to work.


David: I think more and more of that is coming, and that's a good thing. We're getting some of the other things we've been doing, though we just want an award. I'm pleased to say for our graphic novel that we put together our Patriots Best Practices guide. That's a good thing. We're trying to engage those students and their families who traditionally you know how some of these RSA guidelines go. They're very dry. They're on an eight and a half by 11 piece of paper typed print. This is engaging. We find once you put it in the kids hands, they can't put it down and they're learning about all the steps of VR and the families are learning about that. That's a good thing because we really believe it takes a village and back to the other thing we were talking about where you've got to get the person with the disability resolved to want to work. And yes, they come about that ultimately on their own. But if their families are in on it, their friends are in on it, the community is on it and telling them, Hey, this is a good thing. Work brings independence, self-determination and it really, you're going to be contributing to something. I mean, I would assert somebody's self-identity really work is intertwined with that. So we think that things, whether it's the what? Your Vision ad campaign, this Preets practices guide, all of the other work that we're doing, trying to get out into the broader community. We think that rising tide will lift all ships.


Carol: So is that price guide also on your website, David?


David: It sure is Mass.Gov/MCB. Additionally, we have a companion website that goes with it that shows you the graphic novel and is audio described at the same time. And I think that's quest for independence. It's the UWW, AMC B Dash quest for independence. Again, go toMass.Gov/MCB. You'll get the link to it.


Carol: Awesome. No, I'm sure there's some people going to be interested in that as well. That's a bonus tip all listeners for the price guide. That's great. So it might be a little early on seeing this yet, but have you either have you seen any kind of the signs of the long COVID starting to impact customers? David, I'll ask you that first, have you started to see that?


David: Yeah. So in Massachusetts, we haven't seen too much of that, but we have seen hesitancy getting back out into the community a little bit. And on the consumer side, you know, so we're only going to do that when people are comfortable because it's really it's safety first, it's safety first for our team, for our counselors and then additionally for the consumers. We haven't seen too many breakthroughs, fortunately or too much spread in our community in Massachusetts, which we're grateful for. We have a high vaccination rate. I think Massachusetts leads the nation in the percentage of our people who are vaccinated. I think that's contributed and helped really open things up in Massachusetts here. I wouldn't say it's back to what it was pre-COVID, but I think we're trending in the right direction and hopefully sometimes we'll be able to put this behind us.


Carol: Good. Good, Natasha, what about in Minnesota? Are you seeing any signs of like the long COVID in customers?


Natasha: We have not. Between both general and blind. We haven't seen a single applicant or customer who is dealing with long COVID. Part of me is, yes, it might be too soon, and the other part of me is thinking, I don't know if individuals really are realizing that those long term effects are going to have a disabling impact on them, and they may not even realize what VR is or what disability is. They were living and working just as anyone does. And then this happened. So I think there might need to be some awareness out there in the future.


Carol: I can see a campaign coming. I can see David like launching a campaign around this, how we going to serve the long COVID folks. So back in the day, I used to have this personal philosophy. I like to tag to start with, you know, about employment, and I always felt that I wanted our customers to achieve and obtain or maintain family sustaining wages. And I don't focus used to be like, what? Like, what is that? But I didn't want people to just get a job. I wanted them to give more than a job. I was hoping it could lend itself to a career and moving up and having a ladder and buying a house and doing all of that. So what is your personal philosophy around employment and people with disabilities and Natasha, I'll ask you first.


Natasha: My first philosophy is I agree with you, Carol. Any old job does not mean a good job, and family sustaining wage is essential. My other philosophy is I don't believe there should have to be a philosophy around employment of people with disabilities. I mean, frankly, VR is a long term goal needs to be that we aren't needed, that the only factor in any employment situation should be that the individual can do the job and it should not matter if they have a disability or not. And employers need to recognize that every single person brings value and strength to the organization. And we are doing a family sustaining wage study in Minnesota, and 93 percent of individuals with disabilities who are part of the data did not receive a family sustaining wage. 93 percent, there should not be a gap and they should not be relegated to entry level employment, minimum wage employment if they want and need to do more. My philosophy is there shouldn't have to be one.


Carol: I love that here here, Mic-drop on that boom. So David, how about you? Even though we shouldn't have to have one? Do you have a personal philosophy?


David: I certainly do as a consumer myself, having been completely blind multiple times in my life and now being legally blind right on 20-200, there is a significant amount of suffering that occurs with people with blindness, people with disabilities in general. Coming to that acceptance, that disability is going to be part of the natural human condition, I think is the first thing. So once you can come to terms with that, then it becomes the greatest secret right, which is we become what we think about. So if you focus and your resolve that you want to work, you will achieve that and then move up. And so it starts with goal setting and a plan and all the things we talk about in VR, the tried and true methods of sitting down with your family, with your extended circle and drawing up that plan and sticking to it, the path to prosperity is paved by perseverance. You got to hang in there for everyone hundred you ask you. I get 99 no's, and you can't give up until you get that one, yes, even if it's at the hundredth time, so you've got to hang in there, that is. The number one thing is that perseverance, because people with disabilities are naturally inclined to solve problems to hang in there. Whether it's the Accenture study that we know that people with disabilities outperformed in terms of being on time in terms of having less absenteeism, in terms of being productive in many ways. Those are all good traits, but it starts with overcoming the inherent challenges that come with disability. And then once you do that, then come into VR. We've got programs and services, and we've got great professionals who know how to provide opportunities for you.


Carol: I love that. Oh my gosh, I'm glad you said it. That Accenture study as well. It's back to the basics. I always think we used to talk about that. Going back to the basics. I know sometimes it's like, Oh, here's a flashy new program that's going on, but really, it is back to the basics. I am going to ask you, though, have you had any other types of initiatives or practices that you put into place around employment that you're hoping are going to help to move the needle forward? And David, I'm going to kick that to you.


David: So let's talk about some of the realignment projects that we do. I think year one realignment projects that we did. Twenty four separate realignment projects, we follow that up with another six this year. I think we're doing another 6. So we're talking everything from the graphic novel that we talked about to we launched an employer challenge during the pandemic. We get great response on that from the business community, where we challenge the business community to, hey, do one more thing. That's the name of the campaign. Do one more thing. Everybody can be a mentor. You can offer one more internship. How about interviewing and then hiring and then promoting and retaining all of those things? So that's what that campaign is centered around. We launched our Career View podcast. We've got twenty one episodes there on all types of VR topics. We have special guests and staff and counselors sharing their insight, by the way that's available on our website Mass.Gov/MCB. You can also find it on SoundCloud, Apple and Google. So we have our nationally recognized summer internship program. This year, we had nearly 70 individuals participate that joins more than a group of 700 that we've had over the years. In October, we had our job fair. We do that annually at Radcliffe and with partners like Perkins School for the Blind, Carroll Center for the Blind and other community stakeholders.

This year we had 40 career ready candidates who pitch themselves. We did reverse pitches, which seem to be a very effective model in the 20 personnel executives that we have loved it and we're getting placements out of that job fair. We did the 60 second elevator pitch, so if you want more information, contact me, be pleased to share it. We did a reach for the stars, which was in that event where we gave out gifts to the people that had the best pitches. And then for Nadeem, we created blogs and worked with our sister agencies, MRC and Match Commission for the death of Hard of Hearing to get it out through their communities to make sure that people know that, yeah, it's about blindness, but it's also about people with deaf blindness and people with blindness and other disabilities as well. So whether it's the virtual town halls that we're doing, I came day celebrations. I mean, we've got a lot of events going on. My team has worked so hard and I think we have the advantage, though, of such institutional knowledge and just great human resources here in Massachusetts with our team at MCB and the consumers. I mean, you just got to have a willing consumer group that wants to take part.


Carol: Well, I think you need to have a session at NCSAB or CSr CSAvR and all the things that you're doing because I could just see, like my old director, wheels are turning. I am sure colleagues from across the country would be like, What are you doing? I want to know more about that.


David: Sign us up. I mean, there is a number of other studies that we did realignment projects. I think in total, Carla and I, who's our communications director, Carla Cathy, does a terrific job. I think we stopped at 52 different projects that we've done over the past 24 months or something like that. So we've got a lot going on. Check us out. Mass.Gov/MCB to find out more.


Carol: Holy smokes. Thanks for sharing that. So Natasha, I know you're representing you and Dee, so are there any other initiatives or practices that you all are doing around employment to move the needle forward?


Natasha: I got sent a whole list that Minnesota General has been doing, but I think the biggest thing I wanted to share first is that we are doing most of these things together. I think Minnesota General and Minnesota Blind had had a long history of being very isolated from one another and siloed. That is no more. We do almost everything together and as one voice, and so a lot of the things I'll be talking about, we are doing this as a team, but with employment, I think pre-employment is the first place we start is when you build that. Relationship between a student and work, so a couple of things that we're doing at SSB is bring your a game where students are meeting monthly and they get information about an Alexa game and then they play that game with their family and friends, and then they come back together with their peers to talk about the game and how it relates to jobs and job skills. And then we also did an open mic night so that we can encourage the artistic side of our students. And they came, Well, they're going to be coming on the 28th. They're singers and bands and poets and comedians and storytellers, so they'll be able to share their talent.

We're also expanding our pre-employment transition services programs. We're adding another work opportunity navigator who's going to be focused on providing work experiences in the northern region since we have a ton of students up there and a lot of need. We're also entering into a contract with the third party to host liability insurance so that we can get more students out there for work experiences. That's been our biggest barrier, so we figured let's get over that so we can get students paid work experiences. We have a program in Minnesota called the Connect seven hundred program, which is great but could be better. But Connect seven hundred is like Schedule A, where a person with a disability can come in and have a noncompetitive interview. And the Connect 700 program has just soared this last year. And the stats are that someone who applies for Connect 700 with the state are nearly twice as likely to get hired than someone from the general public firsthand. SSB has had a number of vacancies in every single vacancy, has had to connect 700 applicant and almost every single vacancy has been hired from a Connect 700. So that's been a really great experience. Another huge project, and I'm going to say it's 2 projects.

The first is the elimination of subminimum wage. Legislature created a task force to eliminate it by 2025 and going hand in hand with that is our collaboration with the Department of Human Services to help people who are on waivers and receiving vocational rehabilitation to get jobs. We're doing something called service provider alignment, so if someone's on a waiver and getting vocational rehabilitation services, they can have the same provider from start to finish. We have a new framework called Engage Plan, Find and Keep so that it helps people move through that process without any delays so that they can get into employment. And there's no back and forth of who's paying for what. So it's a seamless experience. And then I could go on and on with 50 more things, but for sake of time, I won't. But the final thing is we have increased our collaboration with our WIO partners tenfold because they have connections. We don't we know disability, but they have connections with the business community we often can't replicate. So we've been doing a lot with our title 1 and title 3 partners. And so with that, I'll turn it back to you, Carol.


Carol: Well, I know that's been on your heart for a long time. You've always talked about that partnership with the WIO partners, and that is so critical. You both have so much happening. And so I want to lead us into our National Disability Employment Awareness Month, little part of our discussion and how each of your agencies is drawing attention to this month. So, Natasha, I know that I was following on social media as well and saw that there was an employer event earlier in the month. So can you tell us a little bit about how that went?


Natasha: Yeah, we had over 400 attendees. We invited the creators of the windmill training. If you're familiar with windmills, Milt Wright is the company, and the two owners of that corporation actually came and presented. And the topic was music within disability inclusion in a business world, and that recording is available on YouTube. And if you go to our Career Force website, it's available on there. We also unveiled something called disability inclusion bite-size learning modules for employers, and they are 20 minute modules and there are five of them that employers can go in and learn about disability inclusion, and there's tip sheets and tip cards and how they can incorporate it into their business. We've also done a number of blog posts and of course, we celebrated White Cane Day and we posted three videos regarding White Cane Day and what it means for people with vision loss. And fortunately, our governor is very much in support and issue two proclamations one for NDI and one for White Cane Day.


Carol: Yeah, that was awesome and I loved it. I saw your video too, promoting White Cane Day. I thought that was really well done. Both of you are good at the old social media and David, I follow the mask commission all the time on social media and I saw you were part of a panel a couple of weeks ago for National Disability Employment Awareness Month.


David: Yeah.


Carol: and also I saw there was a podcast dropped and you had a couple of other tweets out and some really cool things with customers. I just wondered if there's any things you want to highlight about the special month.


David: Again, just a shout out to our team for doing such a great job with all of the social. Media, Caller Kath is doing a great job, but did a VR panel with the state exchange for employment for people with disabilities, a seed project which counts on state governments, has an affiliate. It's the National Association of State Personnel executives. So NASPE they had their conference in Boston, so they wanted to hear from me. So we were able to present there about hiring people with disabilities. So we're a model employer state. We talked a little bit about that and how they could do things in their state. So that was good. But we kicked off the month with our vlog and our ad campaign that I mentioned previously. What's your vision, which is on TV and it's in print and it's really getting a lot of traction. We had our job fair. We had our employer of the year and then our Reach for the Stars contest, which we talked about. We had our virtual town hall with our transportation authority, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, about barriers and making sure that people with disabilities have their free or reduced Charlie card in Massachusetts. If you're blind, you have a free travel pass to be able to travel throughout the public transit system. So we talked about that we had a white pain awareness day and celebration where we had some mobility awards within that program. That was fun, but we had a provider's council presentation with the disability commissioners all throughout Massachusetts about human services and things like that. We presented to higher education professionals at Lesley University. We did an event for parents of children with blindness and visual impairments for the Boston Public Schools and New England College of Optometry. Again, just more of the reallotment project. So it's very busy at MCB, but it's a good thing. And I think that's one of the reasons why you're seeing the amount of consumers coming in for VR is up. The amount of closures is up. So it's a good thing. I think it's working.


Carol: I'd say so, David, I think you need to train your peers. I have never seen anyone quite like you and how you've promoted and really gotten traction in Massachusetts and have made some really cool things happen. I think it's amazing. And Natasha, I just wanted to say so that if people wanted to follow what you were talking about with the mini modules for the employers, I looked it up and it’s So if anybody wants to listen to that, definitely. David's promoted his website to a number of times, but folks should definitely go to both because I think that you will get a lot of rich information that is applicable in any state. It doesn't have to be that it was developed for Massachusetts or Minnesota. What's being said are things that are pertinent anywhere. So I know we need to close up here shortly and I just want to ask you each. So if you had a shiny VR crystal ball and you could forecast what is happening with VR 5 years from now and how would employment for VR look? And what do you think needs to be done to just overall improve employment for individuals with disabilities? Natasha, I'm going to go to you first and then I'll go to David


Natasha: O if only I had that crystal ball. You know, I think we can't have VR look the same in 5 years from now as it does 5 years ago. I think we have hung our hats on the old way of doing VR for so long, and we really, really need to reimagine across the board how we work with our customers and everything that David says. This is what I hope that all VR agencies embrace. We need to connect people to not just any old job. We need to be focusing on advancement. We want people to never have to come back to VR. But yeah, that's the majority of our cases. Are people returning. That’s why we need to invest people for the long haul and we need to make sure that they have everything that they need so that they do not come back. And the way that we approach businesses, I think, has been kind of archaic and has been from this. Well, we're going to convince you to hire people with disabilities, but we need to be driving home that the expectation is if employers want talented, loyal staff, a strong business model that embraces diversity and inclusion and a workforce that actually reflects their stakeholders and customers, then they cannot disregard the disability community. And VR needs to be the leader in that message. And it cannot be. Just please hire someone with a disability that's not going to work, and that's not our approach anymore.


Carol: Well said. Well said. So, David, how about you? Do you have a crystal ball?


David: Wish I did. But the great poet Santayana said those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, so I think we need to look back. Let's look back at starting with like Smith's best act and all of that and see how much progress we have made. And even it just contemporarily when we're talking about we did away with homemakers, that was a big VR thing. Right now, it's imminent that we're going to get rid of. 14C, that's another step. You know, I look at programs like the SBA8A program. Let's get included in that. I look at Randolph Sheppard as we've seen the pandemic just crushed so many of those vendors there. What can we do now to expand that program or to get that program into other sectors or industries to keep that alive and keep people entrepreneurial? So I. I think the future's bright for VR, I believe in incremental change. These are long standing challenges that are profound. And so to me, it's like, what can we do to look at the existing program, incorporate all of the good things that we've talked about, all of the things that we've been hyper accelerated to learn as a result of COVID. It's the transportation piece that we talked about, the technology piece that we talked about. Let's keep that going so we can provide our people with access to the opportunities. And I'm just very confident that we're trending in the right direction. I want to keep it going.


Carol: Well, thank you, David, for those positive words at the end. I really appreciate that. I think you two are both such a visionary and just talented leaders, and I'm really looking forward to the work you all do over these next five years. Very excited. Thank you for being on the show. I appreciate your time. I know you're both busy.


David: Thank you, Carol.


Natasha: Thanks to you all.


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