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More work sought for disabled people in SD

By Bob Mercer

Capitol Correspondent

PIERRE -- South Dakota adults with disabilities were somewhat more likely to be employed than the national averages for their types of disabilities, according to 2011 data presented Tuesday to a state task force.

But that relative success masks a broader problem.

Adults with disabilities were much less likely to have paying jobs than people without disabilities, roughly 30 percent vs. 70 percent nationally, and pay frequently was at poverty level.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard sees people with disabilities as an important source of workers for South Dakota employers.

He is asking all departments and bureaus in state government to focus on hiring more people with disabilities.

He also appointed a 35-member task force of parents, employers, service providers, nonprofit representatives, legislators and state officials.

That group met Tuesday for the second time and has a possibly final meeting scheduled for Sept. 16.

The governor's emphasis is part of a nationwide initiative.

In the past year, Daugaard was co-chairman for the National Governors Association panel that developed a blueprint for states called "A Better Bottom Line."

Daugaard's parents were born deaf and held jobs to raise their family. He and his two sisters learned sign language at home before they learned spoken language.

The task force is building a South Dakota version of the plan using four of the main points from the NGA model:

• Make employing people with disabilities part of the state workforce strategy;

• Find and support businesses to employ people with disabilities;

• Prepare youth with disabilities to work; and

• Make the best use of limited resources.

Laurie Gill, who is chairing the task force for the governor. She's also the mayor of Pierre and is transitioning from her current job as state secretary of human services in the Daugaard Cabinet to being his state commissioner of human resources.

There, she'll be in the pilot's seat for the disability-hiring effort by state government.

The task force listed about 30 ideas and goals under those four headings. One has something of a head start.

The youth-preparation effort is already in the second year of a three-year, $2 million federal grant through the state Department of Labor and Regulation.

The pilot project is focused on people ages 18 to 24 in the Black Hills region of Butte, Custer, Fall River, Harding, Lawrence, Meade and Pennington counties.

South Dakota will be short 49,000 workers by 2020 based on current growth trends in jobs and workers.

Gloria Pluimer, who is involved in the youth-preparation work as director for the Career Learning Center of the Black Hills, suggested that job analysts be made available to employers.

She said they could look for ways that duties can be realigned to make the most of each employee's education and ability levels.