Washington, D.C., March 15 – 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, 3,023 Wyomingites with disabilities lost jobs as the state faces new economic challenges.
Last month, America’s governors gathered in Washington for the National Governors Association meeting to talk about these and other key issues. Governor Matt Mead’s council on disabilities holds an Employment First summit every year. People with disabilities, businesses, agencies, and advocates all gather to make connections and learn about employment issues.
To promote educational attainment for students with disabilities, the University of Wyoming’s ECHO network, knowledge-sharing communities led by teams experienced in disability issues, is holding “secondary transitions” sessions. These sessions allow school and state agency staff, case managers and paraeducators to learn and connect to form a network or support for students with disabilities.
According to RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization that fights stigma and advances opportunity for people with disabilities, Wyoming now ranks 6th on jobs for people with disabilities. In total, there are 39,161 working-age people with disabilities living in that state and 18,485 of them have jobs. With an 47.2 percent employment rate for its people with disabilities, Wyoming now outperforms most of the country.
Governors have a critical role to play as the economy grows and states advance opportunities for citizens of all disabilities. Former Gov. 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, he 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 were 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.”
Wyoming had an overall high school graduation rate of 80 percent in 2016, but only 65 percent of the students with disabilities graduated.
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,” RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “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