Gov. Lee Visits Leaders to Discuss Tennessee’s Progress in Serving Disability Community

State makes strides in employment, higher education, mental health, and early intervention
Thursday, October 14, 2021 | 01:19pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Gov. Lee met with leaders in the disability community to discuss how Tennessee is leading in providing supports to individuals with disabilities. The visits included discussion around landmark technology being used in Tennessee to support adults seeking greater independence and an update on Tennessee’s strides in providing employment opportunities to those with disabilities.

The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and TennCare are working with Core Services in the Tri-Cities area to utilize Enabling Technology to support those with disabilities in reaching their independence goals, leading to less reliance on paid-supports and overall greater quality of life.

Tennessee’s Employment First Task Force also presented the 2021 “Expect Employment” Report at Access ETSU’s inclusive higher education program which details the progress made in providing high-quality employment opportunities to individuals with disability. ETSU is one of six higher education institutions across the state with an inclusive post-secondary program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. More than 80 percent of graduates from these programs are successfully employed.

“Now more than ever, there is a high demand to recruit, hire and retain quality employees across the state,” said Lee. “People of all abilities are needed in our workforce as we continue to see our economy grow. I’m proud of the work our state agencies and private partners are doing to prepare people with disabilities for employment and engage businesses across the state.”

The Employment First Task Force developed a goal in 2018 to reduce the statewide employment gap between people with and without disabilities by 5 percent by 2023.  Highlights of the progress detailed in the 2021 report include:

  • Reducing the employment gap between people with and without disabilities by 1.7 percent
  • Passage of State as a Model Employer (SAME) Legislation, which seeks to make Tennessee State Government a model employer of people with disabilities
  • Creation of the Tennessee Believes Program, which will increase access to inclusive higher education opportunities at colleges and universities across the state
  • Utilizing virtual reality to deliver pre-employment services to Tennesseans with disabilities throughout the pandemic

“There is dignity in a paycheck, and we know thousands of people with disabilities are ready to go to work today,” said Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) Commissioner Brad Turner.  “We are engaging with more employers than ever about this largely untapped pool of talent, and my team and our community partners are working tirelessly to help connect potential employees and employers in all corners of the state.”

Recognizing the vital role the disability community plays in the Tennessee workforce, families and communities, Gov. Lee has prioritized services for those with disabilities in many ways. Key highlights include:

  • Making Tennessee the first state in the nation to prioritize people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Phase 1a1 of its vaccination plan leading to an early and drastic decrease in COVID infections among the disability community.
  • Launching five Tennessee START Assessment and Stabilization Teams (TN START AST) statewide to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have complex behavioral or mental health needs.
  • Expanding the Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS) program to record-breaking levels in order to serve children from birth until their third birthday with developmental delays and disabilities.
  • Enrolling more than 1000 children in the Katie Beckett Program for children with disabilities and/or complex medical needs who are not currently Medicaid eligible because of their parent’s income or assets since it opened for applications in late November 2020.