Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Montana Lieutenant Governor Kristin Juras provided the opening address this week at the inaugural Disability Employment Conference that was held in Butte.

KGVO News spoke to Chanda Hermanson with the DPHHS Disability Employment and Transitions Division about the fact that over 70,000 disabled persons in Montana could enter the workforce with training and accommodations.

There are over 70,000 Disabled Persons Available to the Montana Workforce

“This conference was being hosted by Montana Vocational Rehabilitation,” said Hermanson. “It was an event to educate and support Montana's businesses and workforce to talk about disability employment. There are about 72,000 people in Montana in the working age group that have disabilities, only about half of them are employed, so it's an untapped talent pool that we want to make sure that businesses connect to.”

Hermanson said DPHHS is already serving a good number of disabled individuals, helping them enter the workforce.

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Over 3,000 Disabled Persons are Already Trained and Working in Montana

“We are serving about 3,000 of those people and preparing them to enter the workforce,” she said. “Our goal is to make those connections, build those relationships and really provide an opportunity to learn about disability employment. It can get complex, and there's a lot of mystery around it at times, and so we wanted to sit down and talk about it and provide some guidance and support.”

With the vast disparity of available jobs and not enough people to fill them, Hermanson said that with training and accommodations, disabled persons can fill many of those positions.

“Let’s just start at that basic level of what does the job description look like and who are you possibly screening out before you even get to meet them?” she asked. “There are common myths and misconceptions that people with disabilities can only work part time. That's a myth. There are a lot of work incentives for people who are receiving Social Security benefits and we can help people navigate that path.”

There are Numerous State and Federal Programs to help Fund the Training

Hermanson wants employers to know there are funds and special training programs that are available for those who wish to hire disabled persons.

“The federal government funds the vocational rehabilitation program and we have a state match, so both parties are invested in that,” she said. “We can provide equipment, pay for tools, we pay for college education, we pay for graduate school, we pay for apprenticeships, and whatever training is necessary to prepare somebody to enter the workforce in the job of their choosing.”

In addition, Hermanson said they can help Montana’s businesses with their staffing and recruitment needs, provide consultation on tax credits, design customized training, and provide assessments to help identify equipment or other accommodations that might be needed to help someone who has a disability be successful at work.

The Vocational Rehabilitation office in Missoula is located at 2675 Palmer Street, or call 406-329-5400.

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