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RespectAbility: Empowering People with Disabilities to Achieve the American Dream

Four in Ten 2014 Voters are part of the disability community
Four in ten 2014 voters part of disability community

Washington, June 17 – Fully one-in-five Americans have a disability and polls show that most of them want to work. Yet 70 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workforce. This leads to poverty and costs taxpayers billions of dollars in disability benefits.

America has 56 million people with disabilities, more than 20 million of whom are working age. More than 50 percent of Americans report having a family member or close friend with a disability. Fifty-two percent of Democrats report that they or a loved one have a disability, and for Republicans, a smaller number of 44 percent report they have a disability. Surprisingly, Independents have the largest number of voters who say they have a disability, with 58 percent saying yes. This shows that swing voters with disabilities and their families are up for grabs.

The RespectAbility Report LogoRespectAbilityUSA was born to help empower people with disabilites to achieve the American Dream by entering the workforce. RespectAbilityUSA introduces its newest project – The RespectAbility Report – a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues.The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.

“Issues of employment among people with disabilities can affect outcomes in competitive races,” Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, PhD, said in a statement following a recent bipartisan poll of 2014 voters. “This community is far bigger than many people realize, including people in my profession.”

Introducing policies that create opportunities for employing people with disabilities is not a conservative issue or liberal issue; it is a human issue, and it affects a large portion of the electorate in the United States. The top issue in the disability community is jobs. Government policies that help people with disabilities get and keep jobs are a win-win because they allow people with disabilities the dignity and financial benefits of work and also grow our economy and save taxpayer money.

RespectAbility and our partners have developed a resource called the Disability Employment First Planning Tool. This document details those practices and the most-effective models. If the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, which was recently signed into law, is put into place thoughtfully, it will help to reduce the government’s expenditure on SSI benefits, while enabling people with disabilities with the opportunity to become independent and achieve the American dream.

People with disabilities are looking for new answers and policies. The National Governor’s Association initiative – “The Year of a Better Bottom Line” – is a model for innovation and progress. So are programs such as Project SEARCH, which generates outstanding results for people with disabilities, employers, and taxpayers alike.

If nothing else, the bipartisan poll “shows that Americans with disabilities – and those who care deeply about them – are a demographic we need to pay attention to in the future,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said in a statement.

The early primary states bear out that need.

  • Iowa: There are 357,730 Iowans with disabilities. Of that number, 169,300 Iowans with disabilities are of working age. Among this population there is a huge gap in terms of employment compared to their non-disabled peers. Only 44.8 percent are employed compared to 82.1 percent of those without disabilities living and working in the first primary state. There are 12,500 Iowans with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20. Each year at least 3,125 young people with disabilities are aging out of school.
  • New Hampshire: In the Granite State, there are 166,258 people with a disability, of which 77,800 are of working age. Only 41.8 percent of these people are employed compared with 80.3 percent of working age people without disabilities. There are 5,900 New Hampshirites with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20. Each year at least 1,475 of these young people with disabilities are transitioning out of school and entering the workforce.
  • South Carolina: 680,038 people have a disability. Only 30.7 percent of them are employed compared with the 72.7 percent of people without disabilities who are employed. Among those who have disabilities, 15,700 are young people between the ages of 16 and 20. Each year at least 3,925 young people with disabilities leave school and hope they will have a chance to enter the world of work.
  • Nevada: 357,035 people have disabilities.Of that number, 171,600 are working age. Only 39.2 percent are employed compared with 73.1 percent of people without disabilities in Nevada. Among Nevadans with disabilities, 8,200 are between the ages of 16 and 20. Each year at least 2,050 young people with disabilities are aging out of the school system. is the official website of The RespectAbility Report. Expect to read fact-based updates and analysis from our staff based around the entire country. Staff writers will meet with the presidential candidates and report their proposals on disability issues. In addition staff writers report from the ground of candidate forums and debates. was founded in June 2015 as a project of RespectAbilityUSA, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream.

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