Tony Coelho

CHET COOPER: What developments have taken place over the years as a result of the committee’s work? And where will you focus your attention in the future?

TONY COELHO: The first thing we did was to reorganize. We basically had eight different committees within a committee, I didn’t understand how you could do that, and the different committees did not talk with each other and confer as to what one another was doing. What we did was to reduce in size to six sub-commit tees. Basically we have cross-fertilization of projects and the staff works with one another. Then what I found was there was some good staff in the group. Secondly, I found that the disability groups were extremely interested in helping and doing something with us, but a better plan was needed. What I did was to divide the executive committee into two task forces. We put together a budget process, and we had over fifty projects, which is way too many to be successful with any of them, so we reduced it to somewhere around fifteen. We are now focused on certain projects to make them successful. We are continually evaluating those that we are working on. making sure the budget is there, not taking on anything new unless we have the money for it. We are recognizing that the real issue here is how to create jobs for people. All the other things are nice, but the real difference lies in creating an opportunity for people to get a job. We have really focused ourselves in that direction. We were successful in getting the census bureau to put out data as to how many people with disabilities are employed. Each year we will get these figures to work off of, so that we can determine if there are successes in gained employment in the disability area. We have set up a business leadership network so that we have chapters in each state so that companies that are hiring people with disabilities can talk to someone at other companies within the states and work with them. We are trying to get a national C.E.O. High school: High Tech is a jewel. I am expanding that program rapidly so that we can get chapters across the country. We would like to get people in each of these cities to sponsor the idea; we can produce the ability to make it happen, but they have to come up with the resources. This is growing nicely. It has more than doubled since they have been there. It has doubled again this year. The workforce recruitment program puts high school and college level kids with disabilities into intern positions, we have now moved from the public sector to the private sector as well. We interview the kids, we developed a database on individuals interests, availability, capabilities, and then we go out and find them jobs. This is exciting, it works and it is growing. There is a lot to be done. We are starting an entrepreneurial program. We are getting people with disabilities into businesses. We are just beginning this right now but I think this is where we should be headed. There is a lot more that we are doing but we are trying to stay focused so that at the end of the quarter, at our meeting, we can say we have accomplished ‘x’, we are struggling with this or that and how can we fix it? If we cannot fix it, maybe we should not be in it. We are trying to bring a different attitude and a sense of excitement to the program and I feel very good about it. It is happening. I think the issue at his point is whether or not the Government will supply the funds that are necessary to keep the team together. I recognize that in order to do a lot of these projects you have to bring in outside money, and we are doing that, but somebody also has to pay for the staff and the basic projects we are working on. If we can’t get the appropriations for that then you have to ask, is it worth it to keep ourselves in existence if we cannot do what we are supposed to be doing. So we are going through those types of questions.

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CC: This is the fiftieth Anniversary. What impact have you seen from the day that Truman put this committee together until now?

TC: I think that in the Truman days it was a way to try and focus on finding jobs for retrained veterans. Then it moved through the years to everybody with disabilities.

The A.D.A. has had an impact on that, of course, but the focus has moved from just veterans to all citizens with disabilities. One of the focuses we’re in right now is minorities, because over 90% of the people within the black community that have a disability do not have a job. Over 75% of the Hispanic disabled do not have a job. Over 60% of the Asian-Americans with disabilities do not have jobs. We really have a problem here. I think that what has happened over the last fifty years is that the focus has broadened from a specific group to a broader group, and the President’s Committee has tried to get employers to feel that its okay to hire and its okay to be involved with those of us with disabilities. I have to seriously question the successes over some of the years, but it has stayed in existence over the fifty years and I think it can really do some things. I don’t intend to remain Chairman for a long time because I think you should pass this baton on to people as you move along, and the organization always works better when there is new blood. But I think the real issue has to be questioned with a very narrow focus, and that is, are you really creating the job or creating the opportunity for a job? This is the criterion to decide whether you should stay in business.

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