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Dr. Roy GizzardDr. Roy Grizzard envisions a bright future for the employment of people with disabilities. Dr. Grizzard, who is legally blind, holds the new position as the first Assistant Secretary of Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). Upon his confirmation, Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao expressed her confidence, “Roy’s experience as the commissioner of the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, and his own challenges with his personal disability, have given him a deep empathy and compassion in leading the charge to increase employment of persons with disabilities.”

ABILITY’s Chet Cooper, editor-in-chief, interviewed Dr. Roy Grizzard shortly after his confirmation.

Interview with Dr. Roy Grizzard

Chet Cooper:How did it come about that you were chosen for this position?

Dr. Roy Grizzard: I had been the commissioner of the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired for six years. For a period of time, simultaneously, I was also acting commissioner for the Department of Rehabilitative Services in Virginia, the committee chairman for the research committee for the Council of State Administrators for vocational rehabilitation, and on the executive board of the Assistive Technology Loan Fund Authority in Virginia. So, through those various activities I suppose that my name surfaced to the President, he had confidence in me and nominated me. I then went through the normal confirmation procedure in the Senate and was confirmed on the 26th of July.

CC: Can you tell us a little more about your background?

RG: I have a Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degree in Education. I spent 27 years in one of the largest school divisions in the state of Virginia both as a teacher and an administrator, the latter for about 24 years with the last eight in personnel administration. One of my responsibilities was the recruitment, hiring, and placement of all the teachers for special education, including occupational and physical therapists. It’s from there that I went on to six years as the commissioner for the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired.

CC: During your time with the Department, what did you find was the biggest barrier for the employment of people with disabilities?

RG: Transportation to and from the workplace is certainly one of the primary barriers. Another barrier has been attitude. That barrier was due to a misunderstanding on the part of the employers—of what people with disabilities can do to enhance the real operations of the company. I think there has been improvement on that front, but we’re not yet where we should be. We have been working with the Department of Transportation on the transportation barrier. In addition, ODEP is looking at options for people with disabilities who do not have access to transportation to work at home. In fact we have solicited proposals for a grant to create telework/telecommuting pilot demonstration projects to test this option.

CC: Did you know Justin Dart, Jr. and Tony Coelho, past Executive Directors of the President’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities?

RG: We were not personal friends, but I knew them prior to coming on board here. Both certainly played key roles in the disability arena.

CC: How would you describe the difference of the President’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities and the Office of Disability Employment?

RG: I would say we are a catalyst leveraging the work of various federal agencies in addressing the employment of people with disabilities. I also look at us as a research and development agency. We will be putting out grants for various demonstration projects. We will share our findings as “best practices” or “promising practices.” Those activities that work well can be replicated throughout the United States. Another role for ODEP is that we will be working closely with the implementation of the Olmstead decision. The President has called upon the Federal government to do that and we hope to be leading in that effort. We will also be placing a great deal of emphasis on our relationship with business across the country. We will maintain some of those activities that were positive and good from the President’s Committee and we will take some of the recommendations from the Presidential Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities and use those as a point of departure. I think that we will be emphasizing education and outreach a great deal more.

CC: What will be the emphasis, or the focus, of your marketing outreach?

RG: The emphasis will be that people with disabilities can become, and should be, valued assets of the employment pool of business and companies across the country. We will also be marketing more of our ability to assist companies as they seek information to employ people with disabilities, such as accommodations, technical assistance, assistance in terms of adaptive equipment, assistance in terms of regulations and requirements related to the employment of people with disabilities.

 

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