Join our Discussion on Supporting Workers with Disabilities as part of NDEAM

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is coming to a close this week.  Join us tomorrow, Tuesday, October 27th, for an asynchronous discussion on two programs highlighted under the Minds That Move Us (MTMU) initiative.   MTMU's challenge to communities inspired design innovative education and training models that create social equity and economic mobility.  MTMU's Adult Career Pathways Design Challenge focused on programs that are being adaptable, removing barriers, and maximizing potential for adult learners.  

LINCS members Robin Matusow and Jeffrey Abramowitz both represented teams in the Career Pathways Design Challenge.  Their teams highlighted the critical role adults with disabilities play in meeting employers' needs.  Come learn about Piece of Cake Bakers and Pathways to Prosperity and their design innovation supporting greater inclusion for persons with disabilities in the workplace. 

You're also invited to share your own stories of how NDEAM has inspired you to advocate for this year's theme of Increasing Access and Opportunity.


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator




Good Morning, Robin and Jeff -

Thank you for joining us today to talk about work supporting greater inclusion for persons with disabilities in the workplace. 

Both of you participated in the Minds That Move Us (MTMU) initiative, with a focus on preparing and supporting individuals with disabilities for the workplace.  The MTMU initiative was a challenge to communities to design innovative education and training models that create social equity and economic mobility, and are driven by both business market demands and the needs of learners.  Would you each tell us about your program, the challenge your team set out to address, and the innovation proposed to help individuals with disabilities equitably participate in your local labor force?

Hi everyone and thank you for this incredible opportunity to share.

Pathways to Prosperity (Pathways) brings visibility to a community that is often intentionally overlooked in policy decisions and service offerings. Their work creates access to behavioral health services, career preparedness, trade credentialing support, and employment placement support to help returning citizens with disabilities find a pathway to sustainability and success. 

Returning citizens, especially those with disabilities, face immense barriers when trying to find employment and create financial stability. These barriers – navigating a disconnected system; accessing assessment, treatment, services and support; and preparing for, finding, and maintaining stable employment – often push or pull individuals out of the workforce and increase their chances of recidivism.

 Thirty-five percent of those incarcerated have a documented disability, and limited access to healthcare and other supportive services has left many more invisible. There is great need to support individuals as they navigate re-entry, so they are able to access living wages and find prosperity.

 The Solution:

Pathways provides an innovative and holistic approach to meet the needs of returning citizens with disabilities that focuses on reducing recidivism by addressing the diverse needs of this population and preparing them for post-release success. Building career preparedness, educational attainment, and vocational credentialing all work to reduce recidivism.
Core elements of Pathways’ program are:

  1. Assessment, mentoring, help navigating disability service systems, and employment services.
  2. Guidance to in-demand careers, adult education support and vocational training partners to provide access to career credentials and pathways to success.
  3. Support for learners from the prison system through their transition back into the community
  4. Pathways to Prosperity found a home in the largest homeless shelter in Philadelphia and began to service men and women who had a criminal history and were battling behavioral health issues. The team’s existing re-entry program and the newly proposed Pathways program created partnerships and built a foundation to begin implementation. Since then, Pathways has become self-sustaining by:
  1. Starting a program at a homeless shelter and offering behavioral health and re-entry support in one setting.
  2. Hiring dedicated staff.
  3. Creating a system for collecting data and analyzing metrics. Pathways’ workshops and other programming have begun to transition participants to employment and a life of stability.

Good Morning Michael and all,

Thank you for the opportunity to have this important discussion. 

Piece of Cake Bakers (POCB) trains individuals with disabilities to go to work. The primary challenge we address is teaching industry standard skills in a specialized teaching environment. Most employment training programs taught in traditional environments require the student to access the standard curriculum with accommodations. As a result, if you can not access traditional training, you don’t learn industry standard skills in educational settings. You are then limited in your employment options and mobility within that employment.  Our major innovation was to develop a process to teach industry standard skill sets using specialized teaching methods and design. We developed a system, with cooperation from industry, to identify relevant industry standard skills for a range of jobs in the Miami baking industry. We built an instructional program using a color system to build capacity in teaching measurements and equipment use, combined that with significant work related behaviors instruction and technology resulting in graduates who became employed in jobs formerly inaccessible due to lack of skills training.


It's great to hear some of the backstory of both of your programs.  They both focus on communities with disabilities who are facing barriers to achieving sustained and meaningful employment.  These aren't communities specific to Philadelphia or Miami, but reflect the realities of persons with disabilities across the country.  To that end, each of the participating MTMU teams was asked to share tips for replication in the MTMU Toolkit.   Both of your teams had tips that speak to stakeholder engagement: "collaborate, collaborate, collaborate" (Pathways) and "create multiple pathways for the diffusion of your innovation" (PoCB).   

Would you tell us more about how the adult education programs in your communities served as partners in your MTMU proposal?  How did those relationships begin and where do you see them going in the future? 

We built the program (The Baking Program) originally for the local adult education program. It was built at the request of parents and Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). VR came to the school system and said they had customers who had tested as having potential to learn skills to go to work but they could not access standard Adult Vocational Education. Parents contacted school administration and said the same thing. As a result, the program was built on course codes for “AWD” in the Florida system. As the program became known, other institutions and employers began to say they were interested in the process. We realized the basic structure of the program was adaptable to community settings outside of the traditional school environments. Several non-profit and business groups began to use the basic course structure in their environment and have become successful. It became clear that the program could be adapted to work in adult education as a stand-alone course, a “Pre-CTE” course or as instruction independent of formal education environments. The more adaptable the structure, the more organizations can provide the training and the more people with disabilities can gain skills and go to work. Going forward, Adult Education can be a critical part of providing this type of training. 

The structure of MTMU has supported Pathways to Prosperity and has had a dramatic impact on the men and women who remain Philadelphia’s most vulnerable population for homelessness and recidivism. The Pathways team was committed to seeing this project grow, and they have begun to secure braided funding to allow for the addition of support staff and desperately needed resources and educational support was key.

Education and skill development remain a major barrier for men and women leaving prison, and even more so for those with some type of learning or behavioral disability. Partnering with our local Title 2 Adult Literacy agencies meant more than a soft handoff. As adult learners navigate their return home, competing demands of securing employment, financial stability and health challenges, often place education at the very bottom of the ladder. For change to happen and the invisible people with disabilities to be seen and assisted during the reentry process, it is essential that a holistic approach to reentry be applied and everyone supporting those returning work together with a common goal.   

If we are to equal the playing field for returning citizens with disabilities skill development and adult literacy will be essential. Upskilling educational support programs along with integrated wrap around services will work to create and build a unique and effective partnership between the student, educational service providers, and reentry support teams. 


Thank you both for sharing how your program evolved to be a model for other adult education and related/wrap-around service providers.  A key component of the MTMU initiative was sharing the story of your program and your learners.  In our data-rich society, we still need stories to understand the impact of our programs on the lives of learners and their communities.  NDEAM supports story-telling as a means for “Increasing Access and Opportunity”, which is this year's theme. 

While some may see story-telling as an extra, they are as necessary as data in affecting real systems change. What advice do you have for organizations looking to tell how they are partnering to prepare and support individuals with disabilities for meaningful employment?  

In order to affect real system change and prepare students with disabilities for meaningful and sustainable employment, it is essential that we look at the world through the eyes of our students. Understanding the complex needs of returning citizens with disabilities is the very first step to providing viable and robust solutions for those traveling this journey. We also must understand the it will truly take a village to make change happen and the collaboration between adult literacy, reentry and workforce development providers will be the key to stopping the revolving doors of our prison systems.



On the theme of “New Glasses” it is very important to “see” the program you are developing from the perspective of the student. Many adults with disabilities experience failure in traditional learning environments. Programs must take those experiences in to the design and collaboration process. Additionally, systems often have gaps that are filled with good education and agency intention. Looking at systems that created your students, gaps in those systems and employer needs help create success. That stakeholder gathering for success is where your “story telling” comes from. Having your program success told from different perspective is powerful.


Wearing new glasses to gain a clearer perspective is definitely good advice for creating more and better opportunities in the workplace for adults with disabilities.  

I'd like to ask you both one last question about equity-focused challenges still facing persons with disabilities in accessing training and employment in your communities.   The programs you've developed require vision, strategy, resources and partnerships to be as successful as you have both been in your work.  What's one action that adult educators can take to work with the types of programs you've created -or inspired- that will help more adults with disabilities overcome the numerous barriers to their full inclusion in the workplace?


One of the most impactful things to legislators, government leaders, and community advocates is the real life stories of adult learners with barriers to gainful employment that successfully navigate those challenges to become productive and happy members of our society. As those success stories come your way, cherish them, appreciate them, recognize them, and most importantly -share them! This is how best practices are recognized and established and how we fix the broken systems in our workforce and educational arenas. Sharing those success stories will motivate other students to succeed and will help programs move from good to great.  

Adult Educators might look for ways to include courses that include skills training in more creative ways. Funding sources like Perkins and others often have build in strands for support of students with disabilities. Adult Ed might also encourage any k-12 SWD skills training strands to build transitions to adult programing to allow students with good basic skills the time and structure to complete skills training for adult employment. Adult education may also ask agencies like VR and employers to participate in discussions to identify appropriate skills training pathways.

Thank you Michael, Jeff and all for this discussion!


I want to thank both Robin and Jeff for sharing a glimpse of their work with us.  As we end NDEAM 2020 this week, I challenge each of you to consider what actions you're taking to help eliminate or reduce barriers for people with disabilities entering the workforce.  

According to the Center for Disease Control, 61 million adults in the U.S. have a disability.  That's 26% (1 in 4) of adults in the U.S.  For a breakdown by type of disability and geography, see this graphic.

Still unsure how your role in adult education can have an impact on the lives of learners with disabilities?  Share your story with us here and let's brainstorm some possible options for you to be part of the answer.  Have a success story of your own that you want to share?  Tell us about it.  Conversation is key to finding solutions that support more persons with disabilities having access to safe, equitable and sustainable employment.



Oh, I'm definitely unsure.  I provide academic support at community college and I've been here for about 20 years... and the admin has shifted so that, basically, support at this level is not valued.   They're looking for students with a high return on investment as they perceive it... so I can help some individual students but the system is so engineered for failure that navigating the hostile environment is the greater challenge and I'm wondering how to acquire tools to do that. 
     Since I'm working with folks who usually aren't even getting college level credit... I can't help but wonder how I can help people create their *own* healthy learning environment.... 


Thanks for sharing your experience, although I'm sorry to hear it's been a frustrating one for you and some of your students.  I wonder if you can tell us more about challenges you are facing, and what you've already tried?

Different environments present different kinds of problems for different learners.  You mention that your students are not earning college level credit.  Is earning college credit a principle goal of theirs, or is it to earn a life-sustaining wage?  Maybe there are adult education programs in your community that have a similar approach to what Piece of Cake and Pathways are doing in their communities?   If not, maybe there's a lesson to be shared with those adult education partners about how these two models have helped address the needs of these two communities of adults with disabilities?

Jeff and Robin both pointed out the needed for collaboration, and it sounds like that may be key for you as well.  I also wonder if the ones to best tell their stories to the other stakeholders aren't the learners themselves?  It can be a big undertaking to create these connections, but it may help you move the conversation forward from what you - and your learners - are experiencing now.  Keep us posted.  It's important that we share these stories, too.


Mike Cruse

I am collaborating with our adult ed folks across the parking lot, but struggling to create other connections. 

I don't really know the student goals -- I provide academic support once they're here.  
I work in our "Center for Academic Success" and over the summer almost all of our positions were, simply, deemed unnecessary or were moved to other places.  Our unit is being disbanded.  Let's just say it is not being done in a transparent manner. 
     Faculty and staff had meetings about concerns because many students are not succeeding for many reasons ... they wondered about support and welp, they were informed that at one time we provided that ... at one time we prioritized "wraparound" support, as opposed to "hope you get lucky!" support with assorted specific grant-funded projects ..
    ... and that's the good part of the story; what it's like for folks without disabilities.   
      Wednesdays I've been chatting up the book _Antiracism and Universal Design for LEarning_ and that is ** full** of real ideas for getting people access to learning and meeting their own goals.  I know lots of ways to help build knowledge in math so that's less of a barrier.   It's not being used, though... I'd love to connect with folks out in the community trying to build their own opportunities..

Hi, Susan -

Thanks for mentioning the Anti-racism and UDL text you had shared awhile ago.  I reached out to Dr. Fitzgerald (author) and am speaking with her about a possible engagement in the LINCS community for 2021.  Thank you for making the connection.  Stay tuned!

Hopefully you can use LINCS to connect with other members looking to 'build their own opportunities'.  Please let us know how it's going as you take your next steps.