01/11/2013 05:25 pm ET

NGA Chairman Jack Markell 'Excited' About Disabilities Initiative Progress

National Governors Association (NGA) Chairman, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, right, accompanied by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, ta
National Governors Association (NGA) Chairman, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, right, accompanied by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, talks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, following a meeting between the NGA executive committee and President Barack Obama regarding the fiscal cliff. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON - Halfway through his term as chairman of the National Governors Association, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) remains "really excited" about his initiative to promote jobs for the disabled.

Markell said the initiative, which he launched in July when he took over the NGA chairmanship, continues to study ways to create job opportunities for people with disabilities, including those with developmental disabilities. With his tenure reaching the six-month mark, Markell said the process is moving into reaching out to companies to look at best practices, after a period of talking to advocates for the disabled. All chairmen of the NGA push a year-long initiative while in office, typically culminating in the organization issuing a report of ways states can implement best practices in the area. Markell said test projects are being planned in the second phase of the initiative.

"I am really excited about it," Markell told The Huffington Post. "That community has not gotten a lot of attention with NGA."

Markell said that he and NGA staffers have been talking with those in the disability community about ways to develop new training programs and what is needed to help those with disabilities find jobs. Markell launched the initiative as a way to focus attention on a more micro issue where he believes he could have the biggest impact, he said. Previous NGA chairs have focused on macro-level issues, including state economic development and smart growth. In July, Markell told HuffPost that the idea for the initiative came from conversations he had with people with disabilities who had life-changing experiences after obtaining employment.

Markell has been reaching out to companies to develop best practices at the corporate level and discern how the hiring of those with disabilities has offered an economic benefit. He has routinely touted a Walgreens initiative to hire people with disabilities for a variety of jobs with the company. The Walgreens program includes providing job coaching for those hired to help develop job potential.

Markell said that as part of the program, the NGA will soon be picking two states in which to run pilot programs on workforce development for those with disabilities. He said the programs would help develop a series of NGA best practices that the organization will release during its annual meeting in August. Earlier this week, Markell discussed the disabilities initiative as part of the NGA's state of the states address.

The program is studying the process used in vocational programs at state and local levels. Markell said many programs go to companies to try and place people with disabilities there by asking about openings and matching up skill sets. Advocates for the disabled are also pushing for programs that find out what skills companies need and then train people in those areas.

"So many of the people who have commented to us say, 'Change the culture'" of training and job placement for those with disabilities, Markell said.



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