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The JWOD Program and NISH: making America strong by employing people with severe disabilities.

Throughout its long history, the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD)

Program has justifiably received praise not only for its contributions toward enriching the lives of Americans with disabilities but also for producing high quality goods and services for the United States Government. Most recently, President George Bush praised "the dedicated efforts" of "Americans with disabilities who are working so hard" to produce materials needed for U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf. He noted that programs like JWOD "have not only enriched the lives of Americans with disabilities but also highlighted their willingness and their ability to make meaningful contributions to our Nation." Under JWOD, people who are blind or have other severe disabilities make products and provide services for a host of federal agencies, including the Department of Defense (Dod).

JWOD embodies a win-win scenario for all:

* People with severe disabilities get meaningful, gainful jobs.

* Government agencies get quality products and services at fair market prices with on-time delivery.

* The U.S. taxpayer gets substantial savings when tax users are transformed into taxpayers.

Compared to most federal human service programs, the JWOD Program costs next to nothing. Only $1.16 million was appropriated by Congress in FY 1991 for the Committee for Purchase from the Blind and Other Severely Handicapped (CPBOSH), the independent federal agency appointed by the President to administer the JWOD Program. This comes to only about $62 in administrative overhead costs for each of the nearly 18,600 people employed under JWOD.

This is not a public assistance program. In fact, JWOD not only helps remove people from reliance on public assistance programs, thereby reducing governmental expenditures, it also adds to the U.S. Treasury by creating new taxpayers from the ranks of the formerly unemployed.

The essence behind the program is as simple today as it was in 1938 when it was originally conceived: Since the Federal Government has to procure a variety of needs anyway, why not buy it from rehabilitation agencies and thereby provide employment for people with disabilities? The government's pocketbook would be none the worse because participation would be limited to nonprofit or state rehabilitation agencies who would be allowed to charge only a "fair market price" set by CPBOSH. Further, the fact that CPBOSH members (who decide which items can be set aside under the program) represent all major federal procuring agencies ensures that the government's interests are protected.

NISH is one of two Central Nonprofit Agencies (along with National Industries for the Blind) designated by CPBOSH to provide technical assistance to the hundreds of rehabilitation agencies nationwide who perform JWOD contracts. In this way, participation in this program is not forestalled just because a rehabilitation agency is smaller or lacks a certain business savvy. NISH extends its expertise in all aspects of JWOD contracting and is always available for help, no matter what the problem. CPBOSH, NISH and the rehabilitation agencies all work together to ensure that the JWOD Program works smoothly in its mission to employ people with severe disabilities.

Even Under War-Time Pressure, JWOD Works,

Dod, which has the largest procurement budget among all federal agencies, accounts for some 70 percent of JWOD sales. The hundreds of people with disabilities who worked on items needed by allied troops in the Persian Gulf viewed their work as more than just a job-it was also a chance to demonstrate their abilities and commitment to their country. Many worked late shifts or overtime to produce and deliver critical items, such as camouflage helmet covers, water bags, cargo webbing straps, insect bars, bandages and dressings, tent shelters, eye dressing kits, sleeping mats, map cases, panel markers, sewing kits, and scarfs.

The national emergency presented by the Gulf War proved conclusively that people who have severe disabilities, given the opportunity, can still get the job done. Once again people with disabilities dispelled any doubts that they were able-able to meet the expedited delivery demands, able to produce quality goods and able to do so at a fair market price. One senior Dod official expressed appreciation to all those on the JWOD team "for taking quick action and ensuring timely deliveries." He went on to commend the workers with disabilities, the agencies who employ them and NISH for having "provided some of the finest support to the armed services that our country can offer."

At Elvryn, a nonprofit rehabilitation agency in Pennsylvania that produces bandages for Dod, orders jumped by 33 percent due to the Persian Gulf crisis, requiring overtime and extra shift work. Yet an Elwyn Director noted that, "when we ask our individuals with disabilities how they feel about working on [Desert Storm] they are really happy to do it because they feel that they are making a real contribution. For a group of individuals who sometimes can feel excluded, this is an excellent opportunity for them to be riglit at the heart of things."

Robert Muster, an employee with a developmental disability, is a mail clerk at an agency which participates in JWOD by performing administrative services at a large military headquarters in Georgia. With the dramatic increase in correspondence resulting from the Persian Gulf crisis, Mr. Muster's work-load likewise grew. His supervisor related: "Robert is a dedicated and patriotic employee who has responded extraordinarily well to the increase in his; workload."

Diversification Produces Record Employment

The above examples illustrate some of the kinds of employment opportunities under the program. But there is much more to the JWOD story. Many other kinds of products and services are provided to various federal agencies other than Dod. These range from products like textiles, furniture, medical and office supplies to services such as janitorial, grounds maintenance, warehouse operation, and food service.

All told, JWOD contract sales to the Federal Government by NISH affiliated agencies came to $179.5 million in FY 1990. As a result, 14,652 people with severe disabilities were employed last year and earned an average wage of 4.49 per hour; 72 percent of them received a pay raise. Proving the upward mobility possibilities under JWOD, 95 people were promoted to management and supervisory positions. Another 8.5 percent advanced sufficiently in their vocational skills that they "graduated" from the program and were placed in jobs with employers in the commercial sector.

The quantity of people employed today at NISH affiliates around the country is aU the more impressive when considering where NISH started not so very long ago. As the accompanying chart shows, the numbers continue to grow steadily and significantly.

This growth trend should continue as NISH devotes ever more resources into research and development to secure more JWOD contract opportunities. The challenge facing NISH is that despite this quantum leap over the past decade and a half, the demand for additional JWOD jobs continues to outpace the supply. Over 1,000 agencies affiliated with NISH are still on the waiting list to receive their first JWOD contract. Given the many studies showing the staggering unemployment rate among Americans with disabilities (66 percent), this huge demand comes as no surprise. NISH realizes that JWOD can't be the cure-all to this problem, but, nevertheless, NISH is dedicated to meeting the challenge by accomplishing as much as possible.

History of JWOD and NISH

NISH was born in 1974 as the National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, the offspring of the 1971 JWOD statute (P.L. 92-28). During this same era, Congress created several other seminal programs which have improved the lives of millions of people with disabilities. Among these were the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its historic Section 504 civil rights protections, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142) and the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975.

These programs marked the beginning of a new ethos in America that accepted a national responsibility to help people with disabilities help themselves. The archaic practices of giving handouts to people with disabilities, rendering them dependent and affording them minimal caretaking (usually out-of-sight) would be replaced by policies and programs to promote each person's productivity, independence and mainstream interaction throughout the mainstream of society. The groundwork and momentum that was built by the disability movement in the 1970's was to reach another milestone in 1990 with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The JWOD Program and NISH were very much children of the 1970's," in that they reflected the same spirit of empowerment that produced a prodigious generation of civil rights and service programs for people with disabilities.

Today, NISH continues its progress into the 1990's in tandem with the philosophy and agenda of the disability movement. One area which has changed with the times is terminology. The word "handicapped" is no longer preferred usage. "People first" language is today's credo, premised upon emphasizing the dignity and personhood, rather than the impaired condition, of people with disabilities. Hence, the NISH Board of Directors recently voted to eliminate the original corporate name, "National Industries for the Severely Handicapped." Henceforth, the organization would be known only by the name "NISH" with an accompanying "tag line" to read: "Creating Employment Opportunities for People with Severe Disabilities." In this way, the wide name recognition of the old acronym "?NISH" will be retained, and the accompanying tag line will describe the mission of NISH using appropriate language.

Even though the name has changed, the NISH mission remains basically the same. NISH came about as a necessity to fulfill the objectives of the JavitsWagner-O'Day Act that was created as a result of a 1971 amendment by Senator Jacob Javits (NY) to the original Wagner-O'Day Act. That original statute, enacted in 1938, was a New Deal legacy that sought to exploit the massive purchasing power of the U.S. Government to buy mops and brooms from blind workers. This arrangement proved so effective, both in employing blind people and providing the government with quality merchandise, that other disability organizations sought to amend the Act to employ people with other kinds of disabilities. Today, about 80 percent of those employed on IWOD contracts at NISH affiliates have developmental disabilities, primarily mental retardation, while others may have a physical disability, mental illness, head injury, or any condition which has contributed to their inability to secure employment in the commercial sector.

The growth of the U.S. Government around the time of JWOD's enactment opened up increased opportunities for sales of goods and services which people with severe disabilities could provide. What was needed, however, was an organization that could facilitate sales, and thus employment, by acting as an interface between the rehabilitation agencies, the federal procurement bureaucracy and CPBOSH. What was needed was something similar to the National Industries for the Blind (NIB), which began decades earlier for the same purpose. So, in 1974, at the suggestion of CP-BOSH and with the support of Congress and the assistance (including a start-up grant) from RSA, NISH was formed. Its incorporation was supported by a coalition of national agencies long involved in providing services to people with severe disabilities. These were: Goodwill Industries of America, National Easter Seal Society, National Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, Association for Retarded Citizens of the United States, United Cerebral Palsy Associations, and the National Association of Jewish Vocational Services.

These same organizations are still represented on the NISH Board today, along with chief executive officers from several NISH affiliated agencies and others with experience in the disability field. These board members provide NISH with invaluable assistance by ensuring that NISH policies and procedures are responsive to the needs of the producing agencies and the people they employ.

How NISH Creates JWOD Employment

NISH provides a whole variety of assistance to the participating rehabilitation agencies around the country, including the following:

* The organization conducts research and development to identify products and services procured by the Federal Government which could be provided by the rehabilitation agencies and their severely disabled workers.

* Provides technical assistance in the form of industrial engineering, assistive technology, production planning, quality control, inventory management, cost analysis, pricing, procurement, contract administration, and assistance in complying with CP-BOSH, Department of Labor and other government regulations.

* Serves as a liaison between the participating rehabilitation agencies and CPBOSH, which oversees JWOD and annually reports to Congress.

* Staffs six regional offices which provide hands-on assistance to help agencies get JWOD contracts and perform them acceptably so they can keep them.

* Hosts an annual conference (with 900 expected to attend next year), where staff from rehabilitation agencies and procurement agencies learn how to make the JWOD Program work better for everyone.

* Sponsors hands-on regional workshops each year offering how to" training in such areas as custodial services, commissary shelf-stocking, product and service development, contract administration, compliance, and MODAPTS.

* Cooperates closely with other organizations in the disability field to promote the employment and well-being of people with disabilities. These include the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), an advocacy coalition in Washington, DC; the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (PCEPD); the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR); the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA); and other germane federal agencies like the Department of Labor and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities.

NISH Affiliated Agencies

At the close of FY 1990, 348 rehabilitation agencies were producing under the JWOD Program as NISH affiliates, with 63 of these added in that year alone. These agencies are not "owned" by NISH, but rather are nonprofits affiliated with NISH to participate in the program. Many are also affiliated with other national agencies, such as Goodwill Industries of America and the National Association of Rehabilitation Facilities. They usually provide a multiple array of services in addition to JWOD employment, such as assessment, evaluation, training, placement, advocacy, and assistive technology.

To survive economically, NISH affiliates must operate much like any small business. Because governmental subsidies for client services seldom even come close to covering all costs incurred by rehabilitation agencies, the affiliates must operate with extra efficiency and pay special attention to developing well-trained employees who can produce quality goods. Clients benefit because the more the methods of the business world are adopted, the more realistic and hence successful their training is likely to be. That's also why NISH affiliates forge close working relationships with local businesses. For example, many community business leaders sit on the boards of NISH affiliates and many NISH affiliates actively belong to local chambers of commerce. These business ties enhance external job development, placement and retention opportunities for people with disabilities and also help develop subcontracting opportunities.

The JWOD component constitutes a substantial contribution to the economic viability of NISH's affiliated agencies and those they serve. JWOD sales in FY 1990 constituted 35 percent of NISH affiliates' total sales from all sources (such as state use contracts, commercial contracts and retail sales). JWOD wages also account for the lion's share of the total wages NISH affiliates pay for all contract work. The accompanying charts Illustrate the growth in NISH affiliates' sales and wages attributable to the JWOD Program over the years.

NISH stresses equal opportunity for smaller agencies to participate by trying to find JWOD items that are amenable to their capabilities. Over half of the newly participating agencies in 1990 were small (i.e., serving 75 or fewer people with severe disabilities), and just about half of the entire group of currently participating agencies were classified as small when they first began their production under JWOD.

In keeping with the NISH philosophy that values each employment opportunity as worthwhile, NISH works just as hard to add an item to the JWOD Procurement List that would employ only one or two people as it would for a larger contract. The common reward in both cases is the satisfaction derived by every person who becomes newly employed in a meaningful job.

Integrated Employment

Increasingly, the kinds of contracts that NISH is finding for JWOD development fall into the services category (in contrast to products). Considering that the U.S. economy in general is going in this direction, this is to be expected. About 82 percent of the new JWOD employment opportunities secured by NISH in FY 1990 were in the services category. One result of this trend is for integrated job settings which offer employees a choice to work in the community. At the same time NISH still regards contracts to manufacture products as also offering meaningful employment choices, especially for people with lower functioning abilities who may not be able, or willing, to work at onsite service contracts.

Many JWOD service contracts have all the attributes to qualify as supported employment positions under RSA regulations (usually as work crews, but sometimes as individual placements). Robert Muster's mail clerk position mentioned earlier (page 16) is such an example. Many other integrated opportunities are presented by JWOD food service, custodial, groundskeeping, shelf-stocking, recycling, administrative services, and similar service contracts performed onsite in the community.

A 1989 NISH survey showed that 71 percent of its affiliates were providing supported employment in addition to the variety of other services they offered. This finding conforms to other studies showing that, nationwide, rehabilitation agencies provide 66 percent of the supported employment programs (Wehman, 1989) and 81 percent of all supported employment services to people with disabilities (NARF, 1989).

Whenever possible, NISH affiliates try to obtain supported employment funding to link with an integrated JWOD service position. This extra funding helps to secure the intensive job coaching and other support services necessary for people with the most severe disabilities. Although the fair market price in a JWOD contract allows for some supervisory costs that can be a source for job coaching and support, this is not meant to be a reimbursement for strictly rehabilitation costs. Hence, NISH affiliates try to secure outside fees for rehabilitation services from state vocational rehabilitation (VR), developmental disabilities, and mental health/mental retardation agencies. This, in addition to their fund raising, commercial subcontracting and especially their lucrative JWOD contract income, allows them to provide the highest quantity and quality of services, no matter how severe a person's disability may be.

JWOD services contracts pay especially good wages (average of $5.42 per hour in FY 1990) and are maned by federal labor laws to provide health and welfare benefits (e.g., paid vacation, medical insurance, life insurance, pension). Hence, these jobs are frequently the "consumer's choice" at NISH affiliates. Because of the many benefits these positions offer, including integrated work environments, NISH and its affiliates strive to earmark tasks among a JWOD work crew's duties that individuals with more severe disabilities are capable of performing. For the same reason, NISH engineers work with affiliates to develop assistive technology mechanisms that can adapt around a person's limitation and enable him/her to do a particular job.

An additional appeal of using JWOD for supported employment placements is that the long-term support needed is already built into the program, since JWOD contracts (and funding for supervisory positions) can last forever. Long-term support, one of the most pressing problems facing the supported employment initiative, could be greatly assisted by the JWOD Program.

Unfortunately, due to the perception that JWOD employment is strictly facility-based and believed not to be conducive to the integration required for supported employment, NISH affiliates often encounter a problem in getting supported employment funding and referrals. For example, the state agency in Georgia would not provide supported employment funding for Mr. Muster and the two other persons with disabilities who work with him as mail clerks, simply because the state policy requires that the rehabilitation agency cannot be the employer who pays the salary (which is the way the JWOD Program operates). To comply with state policy the military agency contracting for the mail service must be the employer. Several other states have this arbitrary standard, even though it is not a requirement under the federal regulations for supported employment.

NISH has been working to correct these misperceptions among state VR agency personnel, state Developmental Disabilities Councils and the disability community in general. For example, cooperative efforts among RSA, CPBOSH and NISH resulted in the following Program Assistance Circular (RSA-PAC-90-M) issued by RSA Commissioner Nell Carney on April 9,1990:

"Since its inception, the JWOD program has been an integral part of our service delivery system by providing employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities who would not otherwise be employed. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and the implementing regulations continue to sanction this employment outcome as one of many available options. As an option, we encourage careful consideration of the JWOD program when it is appropriate and can meet the individual needs of persons with disabilities."

Another characteristic of JWOD service contracts that relates to supported employment is the size of work crews. While about 20 percent of these contracts have crews of eight or fewer-as current regulation require for supported employment eligibility- many other JWOD contracts require somewhat larger crews, due to the size and complexity of the services. For example, the contracts might involve groundskeeping at large military bases, food service at large base cafeterias, or performing janitorial services on multiple floors or buildings in a government building, courthouse or compound.

Given the size and nature of these environments, there is still ample opportunity to satisfy the supported employment regulations specifying "regular contact with non-handicapped individuals, other than personnel providing support services, in the immediate work setting." Quite a few of these situations could still become eligible as supported employment positions if the regulations are clarified to sanction multiple crews of eight or fewer in separate work settings floors, wings, buildings, sectors, etc.) within a larger job site covered by a JWOD contract.

NISH hopes these efforts to present an accurate portrait of the JWOD Program and the quality employment opportunities it affords will result in closer cooperation among the various federal and state agencies with jurisdiction over disability policies. This would greatly benefit state VR agencies because JWOD can help them to get the most for their limited VR funds. The ultimate beneficiaries of such cooperation, however, would be the people with severe disabilities who gain the empowerment that results when they are able to choose a good job with a good wage.

The Secret to Sustaining Success

The hallmark for the success of the JWOD Program and NISH over the years has been the mutual meeting of the needs of all parties participating in the program. This has been due to the structure of the JWOD Program that accommodates these respective needs.

The government gets quality goods and services that meet strict specifications, are fair market priced and are delivered on time; the government is also relieved of the administrative burden of annually re-bidding all these contracts, as NON-JWOD contracts require. JWOD contracts are retained in perpetuity as long as the need for the item exists and the JWOD-producing agency's performance remains satisfactory. NISH assistance helps to achieve this and, as a result, the JWOD default rate is practically zero.

From the perspective of the rehabilitation agencies, the stable employment allows them to maintain consistency in their employment and training services. By contrast, commercial contracting presents a big problem due to its on-again/off-again nature, with resulting job instability for the workers with disabilities.

For employees with severe disabilities, the program affords real work for real pay. By supplying this one simple ingredient, the JWOD Program is virtually guaranteed success. People with disabilities have always had the desire to use their productive abilities; JWOD provides the opportunities-through prime manufacturing, which builds job skills that can result in placement in commercial industry, and through service contracts that offer integrated settings in the community with good pay and benefits.

Ask anyone employed under the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program what it's all about, and you will very likely get the most eloquently simple explanation possible: "JWOD means jobs!"

For more information about the JWOD Program and NISH contact: NISH, 2235 Cedar Lane, Vienna, VA 22182. Telephone: (703) 560-6800 (voice) or (703) 560-6512 (TDD).
COPYRIGHT 1991 U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Vocational Rehabilitation and Competitive Employment; Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program, National Industries for the Severely Handicapped
Author:Laureys, Kenneth R.
Publication:American Rehabilitation
Date:Mar 22, 1991
Previous Article:Vocational rehabilitation outcome measures: the probability of employment and the duration of periods of employment.
Next Article:Supplemental security income: benefits and incentive provisions to assist people with severe disabilities toward economic self-sufficiency.

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