Training alliance gets grant to assist disabled workers

By Thomas Wilson

   The Alliance for Business and Training based in Elizabethton has been awarded a $191,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to assist job training and placement for people with disabilities.
   The grant will fund programs for disabled workers to improve skills and better market their abilities to employers, according to the Alliance.
   "In our area with the employment rate and economic conditions we've had in this area for so long, it is further exacerbated for individuals with disabilities who are wanting to go back to work," said Cindy Martin-Hensley.
   The grant money will be used to assist in job training and placement for meeting local employer hiring needs.
   The grant allows the expansion of new service areas in the five counties the Alliance covers.
   "It will provide comprehensive service for individuals with disabilities who are seeking exceptional employment and an increase in earnings," said Martin-Hensley.
   The grant permits the Alliance to take over employment and training services previously provided by a separate not-for-profit agency whose administrative arm was exiting the not-for-profit arena, said Martin-Hensley.
   "Since (that agency) operated employment and training services, we were asked if we were interested in expanding those services to meet those needs," she said.
   Martin-Hensley stated that roughly 26 percent of individuals with severe disability in Tennessee were employed. She added that state surveys found 72 percent of the unemployed disabled indicated they would like to work.
   "Generally, the percentage employment of the disabled hasn't grown in the past 10 years," she said.
   A 501(c)3 not-for-profit agency, the Alliance operates several employment and training programs including those established through the Workforce Investment Act programs, Welfare to Work and Families First.
   The Alliance offers employment training programs in Johnson, Carter, Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi counties since it began operation 17 years ago. The Alliance has offices in Elizabethton and Mountain City.
   Martin-Hensley said the Alliance worked with 17 agencies for employee advancement -- however, none of those agencies specifically dealt with the placement of disabled workers.
   She added that the Freedom Initiative would change the laws that allowed the disabled to work in addition to receiving government assistance.
   "The goal is saying that you can be self-supporting and not be dependent on the government for your basic sustenance," she said. "The big thing is job placement and career advancement in the competitive job market as opposed to subsidized employment."
   She added that new guidelines passed under the federal New Freedom Initiative law was playing a large role in removing barriers to community living for people with disabilities.
   Signed into law by President Bush in February 2001, the initiative sought to expand educational opportunities and integrate Americans with disabilities into the workforce.
   The U.S. Department of Human Services estimates that more than 54 million Americans live with a disability -- representing a full 20 percent of the U.S. population.
   Almost half of these individuals have a severe disability affecting their ability to see, hear, walk or perform other basic functions of life. In addition, there are more than 25 million family caregivers and millions more who provide aid and assistance to people with disabilities.
   "Some people can get their jobs on their own," said Martin-Hensley, of disabled workers who lose their jobs. "Some go right on ... some need a little assistance."