Washington, April 25 – As voters head to the polls in Rhode Island today, RespectAbility released its Rhode Island Disability Voter Guide. Rhode Island has a large employment gap between people with disabilities employed versus people without disabilities employed – 43.8 percent. This lack of employment for people with disabilities creates poverty, powerlessness, and poor health. Rhode Island 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.”
Currently, Rhode Island ranks 32nd in the country in terms of the state’s employment rate of people with disabilities. Only 33.9 percent of Rhode Island’s 63,400 working-age people with disabilities are employed. Further, as of 2013, there are 5,000 youth with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 20. Each year, one quarter of them will transition out of the school system and into an uncertain future. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.
RespectAbility has submitted comments for all 50 states’ drafts of the Unified Plan as required under Section 102 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Thanks to WIOA, Rhode Island has the chance to expand job opportunities for people with disabilities. Rhode Island has much to learn from other states that have worked hard to achieve improved employment outcomes. States like the Dakotas have achieved 50 percent employment rate for their citizens with disabilities by putting best practices into places. The experience of these states shows ways that Rhode Island can improve their outcomes.
Expanding job opportunities for people with disabilities is a win-win-win for employers, taxpayers and people with disabilities alike. It is good for employers because the loyalty, talent and skills of workers with disabilities contribute to the employers’ bottom line. It is good for the workforce system because improving services and supports for job seeker with disabilities will benefit others with different barriers to employment. It is good for people with disabilities who want the dignity, pride, friendships, independence and income that work provides.
Rhode Island’s WIOA plan is structured around three “guiding strategies” that include a “demand-driven sector-based strategy,” “a career pathway strategy,” and “an effective performance measurement strategy.” The lens of disability is needed in each of these strategies.
The spotlight is on Rhode Island’s effort to expand employment opportunities for her citizens with disabilities. After all the settlement agreements in U.S. v. Rhode Island is “the nation’s first statewide settlement agreement vindicating the civil rights of individuals with disabilities who are unnecessarily segregated in sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs.” With this agreement in place, Rhode Island needs to move forward with focused strategies to empower youth with disabilities to transition into the workforce and become a labor resource well trained to meet employer talent needs.
Rhode Island has a large employment gap between people with disabilities employed versus people without disabilities employed – 43.8 percent. 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.