Kessler Foundation Grants $175,000 to The Arc of the United States

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Two-year Signature Employment Grant for a pilot that will create a new pathway to employment for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities

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“More young people with I/DD are finishing high school,” explained Elaine E. Katz, MS, CCC-SLP, senior vice president for grants and communications at Kessler Foundation.

Kessler Foundation has awarded a two-year, $175,000 Signature Employment Grant to The Arc of the United States in Washington, DC to pilot JusticeWorks, a new pathway to employment for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). The program will combine an internship program for the young people at first responder agencies (fire, police, EMS, etc.) with comprehensive disability awareness training and support for first responders.

The grant is part of $2.5 million in grants awarded by Kessler Foundation in 2018 to organizations across the U.S. to support initiatives that create and expand job training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The JusticeWorks model will be piloted in four sites over 24 months. The Arc is partnering with the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability for job training and the Growth Through Opportunity Project for its employment program. This project will combine these approaches to forge pathways to employment for people with I/DD in unexpected sectors while enhancing disability awareness and inclusion.

First responder agencies participating in JusticeWorks will host young adults with I/DD for a 16-week internship. Cadets will receive instruction from a job coach on job search skills, resume development, and navigating transportation.

The goal is to provide internships for 48 cadets with at least 45 obtaining full or part-time employment by the end of the project. JusticeWorks plans to train 1,500 professionals from 12 agencies at four sites with the skills and awareness needed to work with people living with I/DD.

People with I/DD face a particularly steep unemployment rate among people living with disabilities. The Arc’s survey data shows that about 85% of people with I/DD are unemployed and only half of those who work do so in integrated, community-based settings earning competitive wages. “More young people with I/DD are finishing high school,” explained Elaine E. Katz, MS, CCC-SLP, senior vice president for grants and communications at Kessler Foundation. “Their career choices are often limited to jobs where people with I/DD have made inroads, the so called ‘food, flowers, and filth’ jobs.” JusticeWorks will address this by focusing on first responder organizations who have not been a traditional option for people with I/DD.

This project also addresses a second serious need. “There is a lack of understanding among first responders about how to identify, communicate with, and effectively serve people living with I/DD,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “This poses a serious safety concern for people with I/DD, who are at least 2.5 times more likely to be victims of crime and experience negative interactions with law enforcement."

The results of this model, which will include an integrated training curriculum, course schedule, costs, and evaluation materials will be documented and shared with other communities around the country.

About The Arc of the United States
The Arc promotes and protects the human rights of people with I/DD, and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lives. We envision a world where people with I/DD have access to the supports and services they need to lead lives of their choosing. The Arc has been fighting for the rights of people with I/DD and providing services and supports for 70 years. Launched in 2014, NCCJD builds bridges between the justice and disability communities.

Growth Through Opportunity was launched in 2013 by Officer Travis Akins (Ret) as a mutually beneficial training program for first responders and individuals with I/DD. GTO's mission statement is "every day is an opportunity to change a life!" The project's vision is to enhance disability awareness training nationwide for first responders, as well as to drastically improve safety, employability and quality of life for all persons with I/DD. For more information, visit

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

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For more information, contact:
Kessler Foundation
Carolann Murphy, PA;

Kessler Foundation
Rob Gerth

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