Press Release: New Pilot Program Provides Customized, No-Cost Career Services to Workers with Disabilities as Their Unemployment Rate Surges

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For Immediate Release | January 26, 2022

To address the high unemployment rate for workers with disabilities and the increased demand for skilled workers by employers, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s (CDLE) Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) and Workforce Development Programs (WDP), along with local workforce areas, are launching a program to better connect people with disabilities to training and employment opportunities.

"Before the pandemic, people with disabilities were already experiencing much higher rates of unemployment than people without disabilities, due to a widespread lack of familiarity with the many skills and perspectives they bring to the workplace and other factors," said Kristin Corash, Director of DVR. "The pandemic has only exacerbated this employment gap. This pilot program will not only connect workers with disabilities to training and employment opportunities, but also help employers address their skills gaps."

Corash’s comments are borne out by research: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 people with disabilities had an unemployment rate of 17.9 percent, the highest rate in seven years. To put that number into perspective, it’s useful to compare it to the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate reached 25 percent. In contrast, people without disabilities experienced an unemployment rate of 8.31 percent in 2020.

This program is the first national program pilot to  leverage funding in new ways to increase equitable, diverse, and inclusive opportunities to those with disabilities,” said Elise Lowe-Vaughn, Acting Director, Division of Employment and Training. “It will connect greater numbers of people to work-based and training opportunities such as apprenticeships and on-the-job training, with the ultimate goal of meaningful employment and liveable wages. Employers will also benefit as they meet their needs for an agile and well educated workforce.”

Over the next 12 months, Disability Program Navigators will be hired in four workforce areas in the state, specifically:

  • Adams County Workforce and Business Center
  • Arapahoe/Douglas Works!
  • Denver Workforce Services
  • Jefferson County Business and Workforce Center

The DPN positions will work directly with customers with disabilities to ensure their access to services and resources across a variety of employment and training programs. Each of these programs will provide a unique contribution to a wrap-around service model that will offer the most significant benefit to the customer and avoid duplicating the services provided. 

At the same time, DPNs will educate workforce center case managers, partner service providers, and business partners on disability-related issues. This pattern of service will in turn increase equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workforce by promoting the untapped talent of job seekers with disabilities to meet the needs of businesses seeking workers.

Upon successful conclusion of the pilot, CDLE will expand the DPN initiative statewide.

This unique DPN initiative is a cost-neutral program that will provide the most significant benefit to the disability community by boosting spending power, reducing the need for public benefits, and increasing state revenue through employment taxes. DVR will provide the costs of the DPNs via a non-federal match program that allows DVR to maximize federal funds. This match program will serve as a model that other employment and training service providers can replicate in Colorado and across the country. 


Contact: Office of Government, Policy and Public Relations,