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Labor and Economic Opportunity

$15.8 million grant will increase career pathways for individuals with disabilities

Disability Innovation Fund - Career Advancement Initiative Model will support career pathway and development

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021
Media Contact: Erica Quealy, 517- 582-2961

LANSING, Mich. - Governor Whitmer today announced the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), in partnership with Michigan State University (MSU), has been awarded a $15.8 million federal grant to support the development and use of career pathways to assist vocational rehabilitation-eligible individuals with disabilities to advance their careers. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated far-reaching issues and disparities experienced by individuals with disabilities and other marginalized groups," said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. "By addressing these disparities head-on and developing demand-driven career pathways, we can ensure access to good, promising and inclusive opportunities for all Michiganders. Together, we can usher in a new era of prosperity for our families, communities, and small businesses."  

The Disability Innovation Fund - Career Advancement Initiative Model grant funds are from the U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration. Funds will be used over a five-year period to develop and use career pathways in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine that benefit racial, ethnic and other marginalized individuals with disabilities.

LEO's Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) received the funds in collaboration with faculty members in rehabilitation counseling at MSU, Louisiana Rehabilitation Services (LRS) and Southern University in Baton Rouge. While MRS will serve as the fiduciary, this initiative will use a unique, multi-site approach with Louisiana to increase outreach, access and diversity of customers served, and maximize the capacity and strengths of community partners, resources and expertise among researchers in both states.

"We anticipate serving 850 customers between the efforts of MRS and LRS," said Stephanie Beckhorn, director of LEO's Office of Employment and Training. "This project will allow us to shift how we support underrepresented and marginalized individuals with disabilities through assessing their interests and abilities, assisting in developing their career goals, and providing them with counseling, guidance and education and skills enhancement."

MRS has a long-standing partnership with students and faculty in MSU's Office of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies, which is known for its top-ranked, high-quality graduate degree programs.

"This project is going to create an innovative model for other state vocational rehabilitation agencies and universities that train counselors across the country," said Connie Sung, principal investigator and associate professor in rehabilitation counseling at MSU. "We should not only focus on how we serve individuals with disabilities and help them enter into the work world, but we should also change how the world thinks about them as untapped talents and their potential to contribute, especially in high-demand fields."

The first phase of the project includes a comprehensive needs assessment, while phase two consists of intervention development, implementation and evaluation.

More information about Michigan Rehabilitation Services is available at