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Governor John P. de Jongh Jr. has signed a proclamation acknowledging today’s 23rd anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act. “Today we mark the 23rd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with a strong commitment to our residents with disabilities that in partnership with the National Governor’s Association (NGA), the Virgin Islands Department of Labor, Department of Human Services Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Governor’s ADA Office and through partnerships with local and corporate businesses we will actively work together to increase employment opportunities in the Virgin Islands for this segment of our population,” de Jongh said in the proclamation.
De Jongh noted advances made in his Administration to increase public awareness of the ADA Act and its requirements. “Three years ago, I moved to comply with the ADA by appointing the Territory’s first ADA Coordinator and in 2011 I issued a mandate ensuring that every agency and department in the Virgin Islands Government, including our Judicial and Legislative Branches has a departmental ADA Coordinator. Our ADA Coordinators were trained to identify barriers in their departments which prevented people with disabilities access to their facilities, services and programs. In June of 2013, ADA training was conducted and a great emphasis was placed on removing employment barriers with the ultimate goal of increasing employment opportunities and understanding reasonable accommodations for our employees with disabilities.”
He added, “As we continue to work toward creating an inclusive workforce here in the Territory, together we are creating programs and employment opportunities throughout our government agencies and departments for this segment of our population. We are ensuring that our citizens with disabilities are equal participants in our society and are equally able to sustain their own lives economically.”
De Jongh also highlighted efforts in several agencies across the Virgin Islands government to ensure compliance with the ADA Act.
The Department of Education created the Career Academy to enhance job readiness skills for high school students with intellectual and various disabilities enrolled in Special Education. High school students are afforded the opportunity to participate in part-time after school employment opportunities in partnership with many of our local businesses. Many of the program’s graduates have been accepted into post–secondary vocational trade schools in the mainland. Career Transition Connection, a program developed by Vocational Rehabilitation in the Department of Human Services provides individuals with disabilities a myriad of employment services, from job placement and on-the-job training to providing trade tools needed for development of employment skills and entrepreneurship opportunities.
In 2013, the Department of Labor created the Disability Employment Stakeholders Panel consisting of individuals with disabilities, advocates, various non-profits and government employees to form a partnership in alignment with the NGA’s 2013 goal, A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities, an initiative which focus on best practices for increasing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, with an enhanced goal of focusing on individuals with intellectual and other significant disabilities. In helping to develop the unique talents of individuals with disabilities, we are facilitating this national goal locally by making a commitment to advance employment opportunities and actively pledging today to work together on behalf our disabled citizens.
“Today we recognize the ADA and its milestones and what it means to our citizens and visitors here in the Virgin Islands. We also recognize the great amount of work ahead of us, but we want to assure our citizens and our visitors that we are making a commitment to continue the work which we are doing, taking steps to breaking down greater barriers which cannot be seen such as attitudinal barriers, removing stigmas in areas such as employment are commitments we make today,” de Jongh said.
He reiterated his Administration’s commitment as active participants, ready to work together for improving employment opportunities and protecting the fundamental rights for our disabled citizens as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.