It’s the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. On-ramps into buildings now exist, but on-ramps into employment do not. Sadly, only four out of 10 of Montana’s 61,400 working age people with disabilities are employed. Most people with disabilities want to work and be independent, just like anyone else.
Fully one in five Americans have a disability. While persistent stigmas remain an obstacle, the evidence shows that people with disabilities can be highly successful workers. For example, Virgin Airways founder Sir Richard Branson and finance wizard Charles Schwab are dyslexic. Scientist Stephen Hawking, like Governor Abbott of Texas, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt before them, are wheelchair users.
3,700 Montana youth
Today in Montana 3,700 youth with disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 20, are preparing to enter the labor market. They have high expectations and deserve the same opportunities to achieve the American dream as anyone else. Young people with disabilities may simply need some thoughtful help to transition into the workforce.
People who are blind, deaf or nonverbal frequently use assistive technology. Similarly, people with intellectual disabilities can benefit greatly from internship opportunities and job coaches. Wal-Mart, like EY, Lowes, AMC Theaters, and other companies has seen that people with disabilities can be extremely capable and loyal workers. While there are few Stephen Hawking – with or without disabilities — people with disabilities can work in restaurants, tend our parks, assist aging seniors, and be super talents in developing computer software or in hospitality fields.
The U.S. Business Leadership Network, a network of companies that focus on building their bottom line through diverse talent, like the free AskJan.org, can be great resources to the private sector. Federal contractors are also vital because of new regulations requiring that they be inclusive employers of people with disabilities. This new Section 503 rule creates a 7 percent hiring goal for people with disabilities in all job categories.
Boost voc-rehab programs
Vocational rehabilitation programs in Montana helped 830 people with disabilities find work in 2012. However, they can do even more in the future. Under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, Gov. Steve Bullock can bring together the branches of government so that education, transportation, workforce development, health care and other departments work together with employers and people with disabilities. This effort can create strategies to enable people with barriers to work obtain jobs and careers.
One of their first steps can be to focus funding on programs that are proven to succeed. Public-private-philanthropic partnerships, along with programs such as Project SEARCH and Bridges to Work, can bring breakthroughs and success. As someone with a disability myself, I know that people with disabilities want the opportunity for the dignity, friendships, income, and purpose that jobs and careers provide. Enabling people with disabilities to “climb” the ladder of success is win-win-win for people with disabilities, employers and taxpayers alike.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of Bethesda, Md., is president of RespectAbilityUSA.org, a nonprofit organization working to enable people with disabilities to achieve the American dream.