Washington, D.C., March 13 – While nationally 111,804 jobs were gained by people with disabilities, 16,355 people with disabilities in North Carolina exited the workforce last year. North Carolina now ranks 42nd in the nation for employment rates of people with disabilities with only 232,875 of the 689,612 working-age (18-64) North Carolinians with disabilities having jobs. The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows North Carolina has a 33.8 disability employment rate.
Despite these challenges, Gov. Roy Cooper has been a vocal supporter of his state’s disability community. Last year, in recognition of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Gov. Cooper wrote: “We must focus on helping North Carolinians with disabilities pursue opportunities for education and careers, and encourage employers to make our state a national model for diverse workplaces.”
Cooper also reiterated, “We’ve made progress since this landmark legislation was signed into law 28 years ago, but we have more to do to assure equal and full participation in community life for North Carolinians living with disabilities.”
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, RespectAbility’s president who is originally from Durham, North Carolina, said: “Last year we saw an improvement in jobs for people with disabilities in North Carolina. Thus, for thousands of people with disabilities in North Carolina to lose their jobs – especially at a time when other states are improving – is deeply disappointing. I know that Carolinians are capable of doing much better on these issues. I look forward to future progress.”
As part of the quest to improve the numbers of people with disabilities entering the workforce, the North Carolina state legislature considered a new bill aiming to increase job opportunities for people with disabilities. “People with varying ability levels have some of the same hopes and dreams you and I do,” said one of the key advocates pushing for the proposed law.
The North Carolina Developmental Disability Council also has launched an Inroads to Employment program catered toward widening employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program seeks to “demonstrate the impact of post-secondary career mentoring programs” and “expand Workforce options for youth ages 14-21.” Since the launch of the project in 2017, the Council has built “stronger collaborations between career and disability supports offices” in order to “facilitate higher employment placement rates for postsecondary students living with IDD.”
“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.”
A National Issue
Beyond North Carolina, 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, Walgreens, Starbucks, 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 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.”
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.