Rockville, Md., April 26 – As voters head to the polls in Maryland today, RespectAbility released its Maryland Disability Voter Guide. The state varies greatly in employment rate of working-age people with disabilities. While 39.1 percent of working-age Marylanders with disabilities state-wide are employed (compared to 78 percent of those without disabilities), it’s important to delve below these topline numbers. Fully 47.97 percent of working-age people with disabilities in Montgomery County is employed. However, in Baltimore city, that number drops to just 26.5 percent. Maryland’s voters are looking to know where the candidates stand on important disability issues in order to increase opportunities for competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities.
The #PwDsVote 2016 Campaign Questionnaire was designed for people with disabilities (PwDs) and those who love them to know where candidates stand on the issues. The questionnaire asked all of the presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle to comment on 16 disability questions. Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders responded by addressing all of the questions, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich filled out parts of the questionnaire. They each have significantly different views on the issues. Despite numerous requests in person and by phone and email, the campaigns of Sen. Ted Cruz and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump have not yet filled out the questionnaire.
RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes as voters go to the polls.
Fully one-out-of-five voters have a disability, and 52 percent of likely voters have a loved one with a disability. Only 34 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities have jobs, despite the fact that the vast majority want to work. More than 11 million working age people with disabilities are now living on government benefits in our country.
RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said, “Our community is looking for jobs so we can achieve the American dream, just like anyone else. It is vital for us to know where the candidates stand economic, stigma, education, safety, transportation, housing, healthcare, foreign affairs and other issues. The candidates have hugely different ideas about how to deal with the issues. Thus, it’s extremely important to read their full answers so you can understand their vast differences.”
There are 321,409 Marylanders with disabilities who are between the ages of 18-64. Additionally, there are 22,000 Marylanders ages 16-20 with disabilities. More than 90,000 Maryland students have individual education plans (IEPs). However, many Marylanders with disabilities have not yet received a disability diagnosis they need, and thus are not yet receiving the school accommodations and supports that they need to succeed. Many students who might need support to succeed academically instead find themselves trapped into a lifetime of poverty or flowing down the school to prison pipeline.
Today Maryland has the opportunity to work hard to improve outcomes in terms of competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Currently only 39.1 percent of working-age Marylanders with disabilities are employed compared to 78 percent of those without disabilities. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.
However, looking at the topline numbers of Maryland alone can be misleading. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010-2012 American Community Survey, fully 47.97 percent of working-age people with disabilities in Montgomery County is employed. However, in Baltimore city, only 26.5 percent are employed. Of those Marylanders with disabilities who are working, many are working only part-time or at subminimum wages in sheltered workshops. While these statistics are better than the national average, fully 56,600 working-age Marylanders with disabilities are living on government benefits. This costs close to $2 billion a year in SSDI benefits alone.
RespectAbility has submitted comments for all 50 state’s drafts of the Unified Plan as required under Section 102 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). According to the current draft of Maryland’s State Plan, 3,000 Marylanders with disabilities are on waiting lists to receive the supports that they need in order to successfully become employed. This waiting period can last up to 18 months, critical time in which their job readiness and work skills can degrade from inactivity. Additionally, in 2012 Maryland’s vocational rehabilitation only obtained jobs for 2506 Marylanders. While the Division of Rehabilitative Services (DORS) is doing some good work, DORS needs to achieve greater returns to scale to improve outcomes for its citizens with disabilities.
One of the most important facets of WIOA is that it raises expectations for youth with disabilities and assists states to provide them with the supports they need to ensure success. Indeed, as Maryland’s Baby Boomers retire and our state’s economy evolves, employers are starting to experience increasing talent shortage. Marylanders with disabilities are an untapped resource that can be trained to bridge that gap. Indeed, a recent detailed study by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire shows the 70 percent of working age people with disabilities are striving for work.
Evidence shows that people with disabilities can provide a wonderful solution to companies and other employers that want to succeed. The diverse skills, greater loyalty and higher retention rates of people with disabilities are already starting to meet employer talent needs in increasing numbers around America. With WIOA, Maryland can benefit from that progress if it truly breaks down silos within government agencies and partners, and lets innovation, based on evidence-based practices, take place.
However, the gap in the labor force participation between people with and without disabilities is still too large around the entire country. This lack of employment for people with disabilities creates poverty, powerlessness, and poor health. Polls and studies show that people with disabilities want the opportunity to have the dignity and independence that jobs provide.
America has 1.2 million youth with disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 20. Each year 300,000 of them age into what should be the workforce, but stigmas and lack of knowledge about the capabilities of people with disabilities means that most do not find employers willing to hire them. Young adults with disabilities in all of these states are hoping to find work. They have high expectations and deserve the opportunity to achieve the American dream. Young people with disabilities may simply need some thoughtful help to transition into the workforce. See data on all 50 states here: State Data.
RespectAbility will continue to urge Cruz and Trump to submit their ideas for the disability community. When they do so, we will update the guide. The questionnaire is being distributed to more than 50,000 people who care about disability issues, more than ten thousand of whom live in the early primary states and the heads of more than 100 national disability organizations, many of whom will share with their own lists. RespectAbility also has placed online ads sharing the questionnaire.