Washington, D.C., March 8 – During the 2019 National Governors’ Association winter meeting, newly elected Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak made his commitment to people with disabilities crystal clear: “We view people with disabilities as people with abilities, tremendous abilities that are great assets to our workforce.”
The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows that there are 183,918 working-age people (ages 18-64) with disabilities living in Nevada. Out of that number, 73,968 Nevadans with disabilities have jobs. That means the Silver State has a disability employment rate of 40.2 percent. Further analysis by the nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility shows that Nevada ranks 22nd out of the 50 states for disability employment. Census Bureau data also shows that more than 9,400 people with disabilities in Nevada lost jobs last year.
Under Gov. Sisolak’s predecessor, large companies such as Starbucks had success hiring people with disabilities in Nevada. According to the Carson Valley Times, companies have expanded employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Starbucks has been at quick to implement innovative strategies to integrate people with disabilities into the community workforce. At Starbucks’ Carson Valley roasting and distribution facility, interns with disabilities are given training that builds marketable skills and helps people find employment upon completion of the internship. According to John Kelly, senior vice president of Global Public Affairs & Social Impact, hiring people with disabilities at Starbucks is more than just the right thing to do – it positively impacts the company’s bottom line.
“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, current Chairman of RespectAbility, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act when he was in Congress. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”
Looking at the year ahead for people with disabilities, Gov. Sisolak said, “We have to do a better job in terms of informing and advocating for people with disabilities to be able to function in the…workforce.”
A National Issue
Beyond Nevada, how is the workforce changing for people with disabilities? What is driving these changes? The answer is simple. According to Vincenzo Piscopo of the Coca-Cola Company: “People with disabilities bring a unique skill set that it is very valuable for companies.” He went on to add, “As it relates to employment and competitiveness in the workplace, we have to stop thinking of disability as a liability and start thinking of it as an asset.”
Brand-name companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, Ernst & Young, IBM, Walgreen’s, CVS and Microsoft show people with disabilities are successful employees. These companies also know that these workers improve the bottom line. “People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to the workplace,” said RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. “Hiring people with disabilities is a win-win-win for employers, people with disabilities and consumers alike.”
As more companies hire employees with disabilities, conversations are shifting to focus on inclusion. “Disability inclusion is no longer about automatic doors, curb cuts, ramps, and legislation,” says Jim Sinocchi, Head of the Office of Disability Inclusion at JP Morgan Chase. “Today, the new era of disability inclusion is about “assimilation” – hiring professionals with disabilities into the robust culture of the firm.”
According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 56 million Americans living with a disability. Disabilities include visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, visual impairments or hearing loss and invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities, mental health or Autism.
An Election Issue
Voter research conducted by RespectAbility shows how disability issues connect to all aspects of American life. “Fully three-quarters of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities,” said former Representative and Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. “People with disabilities are politically active swing voters, and candidates should take note of the important issues they care about.”
Gov. Sisolak is among those state leaders who have recognized the importance of voters with disabilities by making campaign commitment on disability issues. Then-candidate Sisolak highlighted the importance of supporting people with disabilities as they move out of school and into work spaces in a 2018 disability questionnaire.
“Apprenticeships expose people with disabilities to the transition from school to work and better prepare them for the challenges that come with professional experience,” he wrote in response. “Among the best programs is Project SEARCH, which is a one-year fully integrated workplace program for people with disabilities. The goal is to secure competitive employment, and the 70 percent success rate speaks for itself.”
As 2019 moves into 2020 and the political campaign season heats up, continuing job growth for people with disabilities will be a crucial indicator of the health of the American economy.