Kessler Foundation Awards $2.5 Million for Disabilities Initiatives

Kessler Foundation Awards $2.5 Million for Disabilities Initiatives

The Kessler Foundation in East Hanover, New Jersey, has announced grants totaling nearly $2.5 million to initiatives that create or expand job training and employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Through its Signature Employment Grants program, the foundation awarded two-year grants totaling more than $1.8 million to five initiatives in four states. Recipients include the University of Michigan, which will use the grant to create a virtual reality job training program that uses speech recognition software to simulate job interviews, allowing for personalized role-play and targeted feedback and coaching; the May Institute in Randolph, Massachusetts, which will apply its grant to a jobs program that identifies, trains, and supports people on the autism spectrum for employment in the security industry; and the Wichita-based Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas, which will use its grant to improve employment outcomes for people with behavioral health issues by integrating three evidence-based strategies into a single supported employment program.

Though its Community Employment Grants program, which works to advance job training and employment opportunities for New Jersey residents with disabilities, the foundation awarded two-year grants ranging between $50,000 and $200,000 in support of a transition program that connects students with work opportunities matched to their skills, strengths, and interests; a program that develops skills and opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by boosting business and community-based job training and placement services; and a graphic design training program that provides employment opportunities to people with autism spectrum disorder.

The foundation also awarded grants totaling $144,000 to twelve organizations through its Special Initiative Grants program, which supports a variety of efforts in New Jersey aimed at improving the lives of people with disabilities. Ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, the one-year grants will support scholarships, disability programming, and classroom and worksite accommodations for two New Jersey students with disabilities; accounting software training for small business and financial professionals who have transitioned into the blind or print-disabled community; a statewide survey and focus groups to explore participation in cultural events among people with various disabilities; and classes for children, veterans, and other adults with disabilities, including ballet, tai chi, fly fishing, and competitive adaptive sports.

"Our goal through these programs is to raise awareness that people with disabilities are often an untapped resource for employment opportunities and have the ability to help grow a company’s bottom line," said Kessler Foundation president and CEO Rodger DeRose. "Our National Employment and Disability Survey found that 69 percent of people with disabilities are striving to work. Some are actively job-hunting and others are preparing by getting the training, education, and rehabilitation they need to succeed in the workplace. These grants help support them."