Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training
Disability Employment Initiative Success Story
The Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) is designed to: 1) improve educational, training, and employment
opportunities and outcomes of youth and adults with disabilities who are unemployed, underemployed, and/or
receiving Social Security disability benefits; and 2) help these individuals with disabilities find a path into
the middle class through exemplary and model service delivery strategies. The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) was awarded a DEI grant from the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) in September of 2012. Their grant includes establishing a Disability Resource Coordinator (DRC) and becoming an Employment Network (EN) under Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work (TTW) program, among other promising practices. The following DEI Success Story was submitted by Vincent Rossi, DEI Program Manager, and is a powerful example of the impact DEI practices and the public workforce can have on an individual with a disability who is unemployed or under-employed for many years:
Richard James was a practicing attorney, father to three girls, husband and owner of multiple businesses, as
well as a high-ranking political official and legal counsel to the governor of Rhode Island, when he sustained
a serious injury in April of 1998. Mr. James experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while attending a
sporting event and a 100 pound arena light detached and fell on him. He also incurred significant nerve
damage resulting in loss of 80% use of his left arm, and 10-15% loss of use of his right hand. The TBI
resulted in personality changes and speaking problems, along with a growing addiction to alcohol and
prescription medications. Mr. James reported that in the year following his accident, he experienced a “fast
downhill slide” that negatively affected his family relationships, social life and career.
Over the next few years, Mr. James “went on a walkabout”, became homeless and addicted to narcotics and
alcohol. He sought out substance abuse treatment in 2001 and successfully achieved sobriety over the years.
He was able to maintain this through injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in 2012. Although Mr. James
worked sporadically since 2008, he was interested in more permanent, professional-level employment and accessed the Rhode Island job center, netWORKri, in April 2014.
At the time Mr. James entered the job center he was receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and
was a Ticket Holder under TTW as well as an Air Force veteran. The netWORKri Disabled Veteran’s Outreach
Program (DVOP) specialist, Roger Richards, worked with the DEI DRC, Ellen Heleen, to discuss Mr. James’
employment goals. As part of the DEI Integrated Resource Team (IRT) approach, they included other workforce
team members including the DEI Business Service Specialist, Sheila Bliven and DVOP specialist, Brenda
Tetreault. Upon completing an updated resume, Mr. James was referred to AmeriCorps who identified a more
appropriate fit for Mr. James background than the initial job profile. He also assigned his Ticket to the job
With the support of the DEI and job center staff, and his improving self-confidence, Mr. James completed the
process of reinstating his law license and began rebuilding his professional network. One of those
professional connections led to an employment opportunity at a small local law firm. Mr. James was hired by
them in mid-May where he is reviewing cases that need a fresh approach and the firm has been very pleased with his innovative solutions.
Mr. James’ story is a unique and compelling one of endurance and overcoming multiple barriers despite
overwhelming challenges. It is also a story of the impact the public workforce system, along with the DEI and
DVOP support structure, can make on the life and economic well-being of customers with disabilities and
significant challenges to employment.