Washington, Feb. 27 – According to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, jobs matter because “everybody, no matter of a disability or not, has a desire to work, a desire to contribute and to be meaningful in life.”
Speaking at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting, the Republican governor of Arkansas also emphasized the critical impact of employment in terms of “opportunity” and “fulfillment” and the sense of “really contributing something.”
People with disabilities face serious physical, attitudinal and economic barriers to entering the workforce and earning an income. In Arkansas alone, there are 264,777 working-age people with disabilities. Out of that number, 81,376 have jobs for a total employment rate of 30.7 percent. That percentage puts Arkansas at 43 out of all 50 states. However, the employment rate for people with disabilities in Arkansas is slowly trending upward. Between 2014 and 2015, 4,016 Arkansans with disabilities entered the workforce. Looking at RespectAbility’s 2016 Best and Worst States Report, Arkansas has risen in the ranking, up to 43rd in the nation from 45th last year.
Faced with such challenges, a lot more work needs to be done in order to advance more opportunities for people with disabilities in Arkansas. Hutchinson himself has taken key actions to open new pathways into the world of work for Arkansans with disabilities. On January 14th, 2016 the Gov. issued a memorandum to all state governmental agencies that focused on job opportunities for people with disabilities in state government. In a statement accompanying his Employment First Initiative, Gov. Hutchinson said that “Individuals with disabilities are underutilized in our workforce and I am calling on our state’s agencies to lead this important effort by example.” This executive action was built around specific goals for each state agency.