Washington, April 9 – Months following the presidential primary caucus, Iowa may be out of the political spotlight for many but the disability community is still making headway in the first caucus state.
Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds are bringing critical attention to Iowa’s leadership as the third best state in the nation for empowering individuals with disabilities through employment. As measured by data collected in the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, the employment rate for Iowans with disabilities is significantly higher than that national average.
With growth policies from Gov. Branstad and continuing leadership from former Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa jumped to number three in the nation in terms of the employment rate of people with disabilities. In 2013, 44.8 percent of Iowa’s 169,300 working-age people with disabilities were employed. One year later, in 2014, 46.5 percent are employed. More detailed state data can be found at RespectAbilityUSA’s website.
Iowa’s strong performance metrics reflect the efforts of committed state leadership, collaborations across agencies, and an active disability community that works to find solutions that empower people to overcome barriers to employment. For example, groups such as the Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IDVR) and the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, in partnership with other organizations, have come together to establish the Iowa Coalition for Integrated Employment.
Iowa uses Project SEARCH and other program models to successfully transition youth with disabilities into good jobs in their communities. The Iowa Coalition also has strong partnerships with key employers including Kwik Trip, Winnebago Industries, Manpower, Unity Point Health and other companies. Iowa also helps people with disabilities start their own companies, such as Em’s Coffee Company and Johnston Creek Farms.
“I’m pleased to see that Iowa is leading the way in empowering individuals with disabilities through employment,” Branstad said at a press conference in Des Moines last week. “Lt. Gov. Reynolds and I often hear about the skills gap in our state. Continuing to improve the workforce participation rate of Iowans with disabilities is yet another way we can grow our state’s talent pipeline.”
Lt. Gov. Reynolds continued, “I’m excited to see the gains that Iowa has made in jumping from seventh to third best in the nation in terms of employing individuals with disabilities. This speaks to the collaboration and partnership between our state agencies and many different stakeholders. I believe every Iowan can and should have the opportunity to learn, work and have a rewarding career.”
Jeff James, financial support systems analyst at LCS, also spoke at the press conference. James, who is blind in one eye and has impaired vision in his other eye, shared his perspective on how he was supported in advancing his career. While he had several positive things to say about accommodations he was given, he did note the lack of availability of public transportation. With better public transportation, James would not have to rely as much on his wife and mother for rides to work.
Branstad acknowledged James’ concern, saying that transportation can be an issue for people with disabilities as well as elderly Iowans. Branstad noted the importance of finding innovative solutions to overcome all barriers to employment and said that state officials are working with local agencies regarding transportation barriers.
For the employer perspective, Heather Link, human resources manager at Owner Revolution, spoke about employing individuals with disabilities.
Iowa came in third behind South Dakota and North Dakota; both had employment rates of about 50 percent among people with disabilities.
Joblessness for people with disabilities everywhere in the United States is far higher than it is for people without. On average, about 34 percent of working-age adults with disabilities held jobs in the U.S., compared with 75 percent of people without disabilities.
Indeed, individuals with disabilities in South Dakota are TWICE as likely to be working as those in the worst performing state of West Virginia where only 25.6 percent have jobs.