Kessler Foundation Grants $378,000 to Improve Employment Outcomes for High School Students with Disabilities

WEST ORANGE, N.J., Jan. 28, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Kessler Foundation awarded a $378,300 Signature Employment Grant to United Way of Allegheny County (UWAC), in Pittsburgh, Penn., to expand the pilot project, "21 and Able"—an initiative to build the capacity of businesses to employ and retain young people with disabilities. The grant is part of more than $2.1 million in funds distributed by Kessler Foundation to organizations across the U.S. to create or expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

While state vocational rehabilitation services focus on training and placing individuals with disabilities of 18 years of age and older, "21 and Able" seeks to find paid employment for students with disabilities starting at 16 years of age. Goals of "21 and Able" over the two-year grant period include establishing new employment for 84 students with disabilities, engaging three to five large-scale employers in the Pittsburgh area and hiring embedded professionals at the businesses for targeted employment support. The embedded professionals will work with schools to identify and recruit students for placement, educate workplace supervisors and peers, identify employment opportunities and support workplace accommodations.

"Many programs focus on building job skills and placement services for youth with disabilities, but the other half of the equation is often overlooked—effectively transitioning young people from school to the workplace." said Elaine Katz, senior vice president of Grants and Communications at Kessler Foundation. "This grant focuses on transition, which is a major emphasis of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) enacted last year." WIOA encourages initiatives that help job seekers access the resources they need to succeed in the labor market, as well as measures that connect employers with the skilled workers they need. "Through this "21 and Able" initiative, employers can overcome their perceived barriers to hiring people with disabilities," said Katz. "The benefits are two-fold: students gain hands-on experience to prepare them for the workplace, and employers learn the value of a workplace that is truly inclusive."

UWAC piloted the initiative in 2013, partnering with one employer and placing 27 young people with disabilities. In Allegheny County, approximately 40 percent of students with disabilities leave high school without employment or post-secondary education or training. On the state level, nearly three quarters of adults with disabilities are not working. Because of their caregiving responsibilities, caregivers are also underemployed.

The "21 and Able" model can be replicated and scaled for corporations of various sizes. UWAC and its business collaborators will work to reduce the need for external support. Additional funders include pilot corporate investor Giant Eagle and the FISA Foundation. The Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation is a partner in the initiative.

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit

CONTACT: Lauren Scrivo, 973.768.6583, Carolann Murphy, 973.324.8382,

Source:Kessler Foundation