June 21, 2004

Changes at the ILR School's Employment and Disability Institute raise its profile on campus, and worldwide

ITHACA, N.Y. -- The Cornell University group that advocates for people with disabilities in the workplace has more staff, renovated headquarters and a new name -- the Employment and Disability Institute (EDI).

The institute's mission remains the same, however: to provide research, training materials, programs and technical assistance that make it easier for people with disabilities to be integrated in the workplace, schools and communities.

"EDI is a wonderful success story," said Edward Lawler, dean of Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, where the institute is based. "Since its beginnings in the 1960s, it has grown to become the premier program of its kind in the United States, with affiliations, support and praise from researchers and practitioners around the globe."

Susanne Bruyère, director of the institute -- formerly the Program on Employment and Disability -- said: "Our name change reflects our growth and the breadth of our efforts on inclusive workplaces, educational systems and communities. The new name better represents our expanded mission to meet emerging and future needs both nationally and globally." The program is still housed in the ILR Extension Building in the center of Cornell's campus.

With 41 grants, totaling close to $27 million over 13 years and an additional $5 million still under review, the institute has earned the right to spread its wings. Its reach is regional, national and international, and it has influenced policymakers and advocates for people with disabilities worldwide. Entirely self-supporting, it has grants and contracts with nine different state and federal organizations, among them the U.S. Departments of Education and of Labor and the Social Security Administration. It also is affiliated with such groups as the Global Applied Disability Research and Information Network on Employment and Training (GLADNET), which Bruyère chairs, and the American Association for Persons with Disabilities.

The institute's groundbreaking study of selected e-recruiting Web sites and their accessibility, or lack of it, to people with disabilities was considered by the U.S. Equal Economic Opportunity Commission in the framing of new guidance on Internet recruiting in line with employment disability nondiscrimination policies and practices, said Bruyère. She explained, "If you're blind and use a screen reader to navigate the Web, the Web pages must be designed using Web-accessibility guidelines so that what's visible can become audible." Many Web site designers aren't aware of that need and don't comply with Web-accessibility standards, she noted.

Additionally, in a new service EDI staff have helped select Fortune 500 companies make their Web-based recruiting and job application materials accessible to people with vision impairments.

EDI employs 25 people, 11 of them ILR School extension faculty. It has 15 affiliated adjunct faculty, plus links with such Cornell faculty as Richard Burkhauser, the S.G. Blanding Professor of Policy Analysis and Management, department chair of PAM and principal investigator on a long-term research project funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

"Over the last five years Susanne and her team, together with PAM and the Cornell Institute for Policy Research faculty in Washington, D.C., have produced cutting-edge research on the employment of working-age people with disabilities," said Burkhauser. "Their efforts have had a major impact on how statistics on the population with disabilities are used."

Who are the institute's typical clients? "We get numerous calls from the local, state and federal government asking for statistics on the employment rate of people with disabilities, the prevalence rate -- how many people with disabilities live in-state -- and their household income," said Bruyère. Using archived data sets on a broad range of relevant information, the institute's staff and researchers are able to shape the data to serve the needs of the organizations. Key research conducted by the institute also is available to inquirers, both public and private.

For example, when New York state wanted to compare the earnings of residents in general with residents with disabilities who had received vocational training in different regions, the institute was able to supply benchmarking data to the state's Office of Vocational and Educational Services for People with Disabilities.

Select EDI faculty have supported efforts to improve practices at more than 350 school districts across New York state so that more young people with disabilities make successful transitions from high school to employment, community living and college. Faculty also have worked to make sure programs and services that are part of workforce development systems across the state are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

In addition, EDI faculty are working to ensure that the special needs of New York state prison inmates with disabilities are included in rehabilitation, treatment and parole planning. Partners in that endeavor -- a five-year research demonstration -- are the state's Department of Corrections, Division of Parole and Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.

For information on Cornell's Employment and Disability Institute, call (607) 255-7727 (voice); (607) 255-2891 (TTY); send e-mail to ilr_edi@cornell.edu ; or visit this Web site, which is accessible to the visually impaired: http://www.edi.cornell.edu .