- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2007

About 70 percent of the estimated 14 million Americans with severe disabilities are unemployed. Martin Gerry’s job is to find ways to reduce this unemployment rate.

Mr. Gerry isexecutive managing director of a newlycreated institute within the national nonprofit agency NISH — Creating Employment for People with Severe Disabilities. A severe disability is classified as a physical or mental impairment that seriously limits one or more functional capacities.

“Our board of directors and we here at NISH decided we needed to start an institute to focus on innovation and to find some new solutions,” said Dennis Fields, chief operating officer for Vienna, Va.-based NISH. “The world has changed since a lot of the current programs were put in place.”

Established in 1974, NISH provides job opportunities through federal contracts for people with severe disabilities.

The NISH Institute on Economic Empowerment will conduct research to see how job opportunities can be expanded and improved for people with severe disabilities. As director, Mr. Gerry will lead a team of six in establishing the institute and developing research priorities.

He said one of the main challenges of his job will be determining thosepriorities.

“There are a lot of things to look at and a lot of things to be done, but we do have limited resources,” he said.

Goals include researching ways to reach out to people with barrier-creating disabilities, such as blindness,as well as assessing the quality of work available to disabled people who are employed, Mr. Gerry said.

“I am excited to keep pursuing some issues I think are very important,” he said.

Mr. Gerry, 64, is no stranger to disability rights.

He most recently served five years as the Social Security Administration’s deputy commissioner for disability and income-security programs, but has been involved in disability employment issues for almost 35 years.

Mr. Gerry, a graduate of Stanford University, is the father of two. He was introduced to the problems of the disabled in the 1970s when he served as assistant secretary for civil rights at the federalDepartment of Health, Education and Welfare, which was divided in 1979 into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.

He said he quickly became passionate about employment for the disabled and worked on the issue throughout his career.

“He just really has a good, broad background and passion around this topic,” Mr. Fields said. “We thought Martin had just the right background to get this thing launched for us.”

Melanie Hicken