Inclusion Through Policy Innovation Conference

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Inclusion Through Policy Innovation

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In the 83 years since the passage of the Javits-Wagner O’Day (JWOD) Act and the establishment of the U.S. Ability One Program, the federal government has been instrumental in the implementation of policies aimed at increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. From the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) in 2014 to the American Rescue Plan in 2021, federal policy has increased access to employment opportunities as well as safeguards against discriminatory practices for people with disabilities. The mission of Melwood’s Inclusion through Policy Innovation conference (formerly known as the JWOD Legal & Policy Symposium) is to convene AbilityOne nonprofits, federal contractors, small business contractors, disability rights advocates, Congressional leaders, and representatives from federal agencies to gain a deeper understanding of federal procurement and hiring for social good. Weekly sessions will cover a variety of topics from incentivizing federal contractors to hire more people with disabilities to reimagining a modern AbilityOne program that plays a significant role as one tool amid myriad robust initiatives to harness the spending power of the federal government to increase disability employment.


Session #1: Thursday, October 14th  (This session was not recorded)

The Power of Inclusion

At a time of immense change in the American workplace, it is important to take stock of the state of disability employment policy. In this session, you will hear from leaders in the Biden Administration, Congress and the National Council on Disability as we discuss where people with disabilities currently work – and where they could. Join us to gain a high-level understanding of the current state of employment for people with disabilities, the key federal policy drivers affecting disability employment, and the future of a more inclusive and equitable workforce..

  • Moderator: Larysa Kautz, President and CEO, Melwood
  • Andres J. Gallegos, Esq., Chairman, National Council on Disability
  • Richard Davis, MSW, Policy Advisor, Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy
  • Phoebe Ball, Disability Counsel, Majority Staff, House Education and Labor Committee
  • Brad Thomas, Senior Advisor, Minority Staff, House Education and Labor Committee

Session #2: Thursday, October 21st at 12PM ET

Federal Contracting: Section 503 – Take a Chance on Me

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment against individuals with disabilities and requires employers to take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote, and retain these individuals. In 2014, new regulations from the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) introduced a 7% utilization goal to incentivize federal contractors to hire more people with disabilities. This goal is largely aspirational and has yet to deliver the opportunities for people with disabilities that the policy set out to achieve. In this session, you’ll hear from experts and practitioners about the challenges and ideas for reform to improve section 503 and leverage the power of federal contracting for greater inclusion.

  • Jayna Marie Rust, Senior Associate, Thompson Coburn, LLC
  • Christopher Yukins, Lynn David Research Professor in Government Procurement Law; Co-Director, Government Procurement Law Program, The George Washington University Law School
  • Alicia Wallace, Eli Lilly Affirmative Action, EEO Compliance Leader
  • Charles-Edouard Catherine, Director of Corporate and Government Relations, National Organization on Disability

Session #3: Thursday, October 28th at 12PM

Purchasing Power: Small Businesses and the Disability Community

The federal government uses its considerable purchasing power to influence and advance opportunities for small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people or entities through the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program. The 8(a) program is not a contracting program, but instead a program modeled to support business development, technical assistance, and management, while setting aside certain competitive bidding opportunities to enable greater opportunities for qualified small businesses. Set-aside programs are an important tool towards a level playing field, but are there missed opportunities to include people with disabilities? In this session, we’ll discuss the value provided by set-aside programs to both federal customers and the business community. We will further discuss how this powerful tool could advance opportunities for people with disabilities, Disabled-Owned Businesses, and veterans – and what reforms may be needed to get there.

  • Moderator: Patrick Flynn, Patrick’s Pet Care
  • Rob Wong, CEO, Fedsolve, Member, Melwood Board of Director
  • Tyler Freiberger, Associate Attorney, Centre Law Group
  • Gloria Dent, Genergi LLC to

Session #4: Thursday, November 4th at 12PM

Beyond Procurement Power: Federal Hiring Policies to Advance Employment

Beyond procurement, there are a variety of opportunities for federal policies to enhance and advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Join us to hear about innovative employment pipelines, federal workforce diversity and inclusion goals, and other ways that federal hiring policies can help employ greater numbers of people with disabilities. We’ll cover Schedule A hiring authority, workforce hiring goals for targeted disabilities, and best practices that have led to promising new developments for a more inclusive federal workforce. But more than that, we’ll take a look at what’s missing and how the federal government can be a catalyst for inclusion, leveraging private sector organizations and expertise to create an inclusive working environment.

  • Chris Lu, Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor
  • Justin Graves, Founder & Owner,
  • Teresa Thomas, Program Lead, Neurodiverse Talent Enablement, MITRE

Session #5: Tuesday, November 9th at 12PM

How Can We Reimagine a Modern AbilityOne: Pipeline for the Future

In the coming months, attention will turn to the future of AbilityOne and how the program meets and will continue to meet the needs of people with disabilities and federal customers in the years ahead. In this session, we will discuss recommendations and considerations as policy makers and regulators seek to modernize the program, without losing sight of the pivotal role the program plays for people with disabilities. These nonprofit leaders will envision a future for the program that provides meaningful employment to people with significant disabilities in a way no other private or public sector pipelines have to date – and how it can be even more successful in the years to come.

  • Bruce Patterson, Chief Executive Officer, ServiceSource
  • John Connelly, President and CEO, InspiriTec, Inc.
  • Reinhard Mabry, President & CEO Alphapointe

Session #6: Thursday, November 18th at 12PM

Closing Plenary Session

As we close out our 2021 conference, we’ll reflect on what we’ve learned. Opportunities abound for the federal government to lead the way in providing sustainable pathways to employment, whether through federal contracting or direct federal employment. What’s more, fulfilling government hiring and contracting needs with an inclusive labor force benefits our entire country and lessens the burden on government benefits by opening meaningful employment opportunities that too often remain closed. Join us in this session as we summarize the legislative and policy reforms ahead and set forth a plan of action towards the federal workforce of the future, built on inclusivity, equity, and innovation.

  • Neil Romano, Council Member, National Council on Disability
  • Julie Christensen, Executive Director, APSE
  • Tom Lehrich, Former Inspector General of the U.S. AbilityOne Commission


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