On Wednesday, January 9th, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis submitted her resignation to President Obama. She was initially confirmed as Secretary of Labor in February of 2009. According to NPR, Solis said of her resignation, “Growing up in a large Mexican-American family in La Puente, California, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to serve in a president’s Cabinet, let alone in the service of such an incredible leader.”
Solis is the first Hispanic woman to serve in a Cabinet position, and during her time as Labor Secretary she stood as an advocate for America’s working class and for the LGBTQ community. She also showed strong support for the disability community, as evidenced by her appointment of Kathy Martinez to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office of Disability Employment, and the bold policy work done throughout her tenure.
During Solis’ tenure as Secretary of Labor, the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) undertook many initiatives, led by Assistant Secretary Kathy Martinez, to address employment-related issues and disparities faced by disabled Americans. One of the most significant obstacles faced by people with disabilities is unemployment, which is caused and/or exacerbated by discrimination on the part of potential employers, a lack of accessible employment resources, and widespread misconceptions about disabled people.
Under the leadership of Solis and Martinez, the ODEP has developed several priority initiatives to address unemployment in the disability community. These include a concerted effort to increase employment of disabled people within the federal government and by federal contractors, an initiative focusing on disability hiring and small businesses, and outreach efforts to change negative public perceptions of disability. The ODEP also works to increase access to employment-related resources through the Disability Employment Initiative, a grant program that awarded over 43 million dollars to sixteen states to provide training and services to improve the outcomes of disabled individuals who are unemployed, underemployed, and/or receiving Social Security.
Under the Integrated Employment and Employment First initiatives, the ODEP has addressed the employment needs of individuals with the most significant disabilities. “Integrated employment” refers to ensuring that people with profound disabilities are provided the opportunity to seek employment in workplaces where the majority of employees are not persons with disabilities. The Employment First Leadership State Mentor-Protege Program was launched to assist three selected states—Iowa, Tennessee, and Oregon—with developing strategic plans for providing integrated employment as the first option for both youth and adults with significant disabilities. Once the ODEP has learned what works best in these states, the Office will distribute comprehensive information on the most effective practices to help other states implement similar programs.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network would like to voice our appreciation for Solis’ work in support of the disability community, and to wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.