Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan Celebrating Disability Employment Awareness Month

Brooke-Mondale Auditorium

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Thank you, Estelle (Richman), for that introduction, and for all that you do to make HUD a more inclusive, welcoming place to work.

And let me thank everyone for putting this celebration together -- particularly Carissa Janis for all she did to found Advocates for HUD Employees With Disabilities (AHED).

Carissa, your work on behalf of the disabled community is an inspiration -- and you make us all very, very proud.

Today, we not only celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month -- but as President Obama said, "urge all Americans to embrace the unique value that individuals with disabilities bring to our workplaces and communities."

Now, what did President Obama mean by "unique value"?

Well, I think he meant that hiring people with disabilities isn't just the right thing to do--and it is--just as importantly, it's the smart thing to do. For HUD, for the Federal government, and for employers across America.

After all, people with disabilities are America's single largest minority population, at 50 million people. So, increasing representation at HUD means tapping a resource and diversity of perspectives that reaches into nearly half the homes in America.

And given that people with disabilities have higher retention rates, we see how these HUD employees not only do great work -- they're also more likely to help us achieve one of the core goals we've set forth in HUD's Strategic Plan, which is keeping productive, high-performing people right here at HUD.

So, as HUD Secretary, I'm committed to ensuring that people with disabilities are fairly represented in our workforce, but I also know how much further we have to go.

Right now, HUD employs 122 people with targeted disabilities. This group makes up approximately 1.3 percent of HUD's total workforce. Unfortunately, that falls short of the two percent goal set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's LEAD Initiative.

It's a problem that is echoed across the Federal government, as the percentage of Federal employees with targeted disabilities decreased to .88 percent in Fiscal Year 2009.

Two decades after the Americans With Disabilities Act became law--after all we have achieved--a number like that is unacceptable. And under this Administration, it's going to change.

This July, when President Obama issued an Executive Order on this subject, he required all agencies to release a specific plan before the end of January for how they will work to employ more individuals with disabilities.

The Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer and the Office of Departmental Equal Employment are working on a strategic plan to implement the Executive Order, which will aggressively promote the hiring of people with targeted disabilities at HUD.

For example, in order to gather the best, most specific data we can, HUD will now track our improvement in hiring people with disabilities by office, in addition to offering training and support to those offices.

But having a more inclusive workforce isn't just the President's priority, it's my priority here at HUD.

Because with nearly 1.8 million people served by our programs--from 811, to Housing Choice Vouchers, to Public Housing, to so many other initiatives and efforts across HUD--this population has a special place in the work we do.

It begins with the Section 811 program, which for years has supported the development of rental housing with the availability of supportive services for low-income adults with disabilities.

Let's be clear: 811 has made a tremendous difference since it was created -- currently serving over 29,000 individuals nationwide. But just as clear is that the program exists in something of a parallel universe when it comes to the way virtually every other kind of affordable housing is financed.

That's why we're retooling the 811 program -- so that the properties it supports have the same ability to access capital the vast majority of affordable housing has.

Of course, our commitment to disabled Americans begins with 811 -- but it doesn't end there. Indeed, just last week we announced that thousands of non-elderly Americans with disabilities will receive assistance to help them find the affordable housing they need.

HUD is awarding nearly $33 million to fund approximately 4,300 rental assistance vouchers through its Rental Assistance for Non-Elderly Persons with Disabilities Program -- part of the $40 million HUD made available last April to help public housing authorities across the country fund rental vouchers for non-elderly persons with disabilities.

Our commitment is also about access. Through voluntary compliance agreements with housing authorities and housing programs across the country, HUD has worked to create accessible, affordable homes for people with disabilities and their families.

Indeed, whether it is through voluntary compliance or necessary enforcement action, we are serious about ensuring our grantees provide equal access for people with disabilities when it comes to HUD-funded housing.

And HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity plays a big role in that process -- enforcing the ADA and other disability-related civil rights laws through training, investigation and regular compliance reviews to ensure that people with disabilities have the full protection and opportunities to which they are entitled.

Since 2003, our Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST program has trained more than ten thousand builders, architects, developers, and code officials on accessible design and construction requirements and provided technical guidance and support to tens of thousands more.

Of course, tapping the potential of HUD's housing work to meet the needs of disabled Americans requires us to forge unprecedented interagency partnerships.

Last summer, President Obama called for closer cooperation between HUD and the Department of Health and Human Services to use housing as a platform for improving the quality of life for those with disabilities -- particularly those wanting to transition from institutional settings to a community.

In response, Secretary Sebelius and I formed the HUD-HHS Partnership to bring a new sense of focus to our efforts to connect housing and services.

Through this partnership, our two departments are seeking Housing Choice Vouchers in the President's 2011 budget tied to an HHS request for funding that would assist 4,000 persons with disabilities escape homelessness. We're also jointly supporting efforts to help those with disabilities transition from institutional care to the community. And we're holding joint trainings to encourage and support stronger relationships between housing providers and health and human service providers serving those with disabilities.

We know these partnerships work. Just ask Kay from Cleveland, who, because of her psychiatric disability, had gone between shelters and nursing homes for the majority of her life.

Kay was discharged from a nursing facility to a temporary shelter, but could not afford a permanent home and was at risk of being re-institutionalized. With a Housing Choice Voucher provided through HUD and the help of Ohio's Home Choice Program, funded by HHS, Kay has a place to call home and the support she needed to transition into her community.

People like Kay remind us that we're not just funding programs. We're not just building homes, as important as that is.

We're changing lives.

And so today, twenty years after the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act, we celebrate all that this agency does every day to change lives -- and make the promise of America real to our disabled citizens.

We recognize that realizing that promise in our communities begins with realizing it for the extraordinary men and women here at HUD -- who bring the perspective and experiences of America's disabled population to all of our work.

That is our challenge today, and with your extraordinary work as our guide, I have no doubt we will rise to meet it. Thank you.


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