Washington, D.C., March 9 — As the economy expands, for the first time in decades people with disabilities are gaining jobs, success and independence. However, while nationally the growth of new jobs for people with disabilities went up four-fold, according to new data, 3,477 people with disabilities in Rhode Island lost jobs.
Recently, America’s governors gathered in Washington for the National Governors Association meeting to talk about these and other key issues. During the Winter Meeting, Governor Raimondo took questions about jobs for people with disabilities in Rhode Island. When asked about Rhode Island’s efforts to close sheltered workshops, Governor Raimondo said: “It has to work, there’s no option.”
She went on to add, “What we’ve learned is that the transition is slow… You’re trying to transition human beings from situations that they’re comfortable with to new and better situations.”
According to RespectAbility, a national organization that fights stigma and advances opportunity for people with disabilities, Rhode Island now ranks 47th on jobs for people with disabilities. In total, there are 76,763 working-age people with disabilities living in that state and 23,029 of them have jobs. Rhode Island has a 30 percent employment rate for its people with disabilities.
Governors have a critical role to play as the economy grows and state advance opportunities for citizens of all disabilities. Former Governor Jack Markell of Delaware is a model of what a state chief executive can accomplish by making jobs for people with disabilities a key priority. As Governor, Markell chaired national initiatives with both the National Governors Association (NGA) and later the Council on State Governments (CSG). Both the Better Bottom Line Initiative of the NGA and CSG’s Work Matters Report, focused on fighting stigmas, supporting strong public policies and using best practices at the state level.
A key finding in both reports was that people should look to major companies that have made a commitment to employing people with disabilities to see what is possible. Nationally, big name businesses have been at the forefront of driving success and inclusion. Companies including JP Morgan Chase, Pepsi, UPS, SAP, EY, IBM, Starbucks and Walgreens have seen that people with disabilities are successful employees who improve businesses’ bottom lines. Indeed, many people with disabilities also have spectacular abilities.
RespectAbility, like most governors and employers, emphasizes the critical link between education attainment and workforce development. “Employment rates only tell part of the story,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, Policy and Practices Director at RespectAbility, “Educational attainment is critical to the success of youth with disabilities because the jobs of the future require technical education and skill training.” Rhode Island had an overall high school graduation rate of 82.8 percent in 2016, but only 59 percent of the students with disabilities graduated. That puts Rhode Island students with disabilities behind other minority students who graduate high school at higher rates.
Nationally, 343,483 Americans with disabilities entered the competitive workforce last year. “Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” Mizrahi added. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”
For more information on state initiatives: http://drivedisabilityemployment.org