Pelham, NH, Dec. 28 – “We want to use the government involvement to encourage employers to put work first, above any other options,” Gov. Chris Christie said following a town hall at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Pelham, N.H. last week.
During his speech, the presidential hopeful said Americans were not able to pursue happiness due to a lack of economic and employment opportunities. Asked to address this issue specifically for people with disabilities, Christie discussed how New Jersey is one of 17 to be an Employment First state.
In April 2012, Christie made New Jersey an Employment First state. It means that competitive employment is the first and preferred post-education activity for everyone, including people with disabilities.
“Everyone should have the opportunity to be productive, earn a living, and feel a sense of personal fulfillment from employment,” the governor said during the announcement. “That’s why we’re working cooperatively with the private sector to ensure that people with disabilities are a seamless part of New Jersey’s workforce, with the independence and sense of community that comes from relationships developed inside and outside of the workplace.”
Helping people with disabilities obtain competitive integrated employment empowers them with choices for their future, reduces poverty, shrinks enrollment in entitlement programs, eases demand on state and community based social service agencies and provides workers with a sense of achievement.
While Christie called the program “important for folks who are suffering from disabilities,” it is important to note that not every person with a disability suffers, is a victim or is stricken. Christie’s language carried the assumption that a person with a disability has a reduced quality of life, which is not necessarily the case.
However, not having the opportunity for full employment can impact an individual’s quality of life. A major issue for the disability community is the economy. More than 70 percent of people with disabilities are not employed, and Christie said one way to address that is make the Employment First philosophy a national program.
“We’re proud to be one of the 17 states that have signed on,” Christie said. “We signed on about two years ago, and it is doing really well in our state. It should be a national program.”