Washington, Nov. 2 – While 72 percent of Americans without disabilities are employed, only 32 percent of Americans with disabilities are. However, two-thirds of Americans with disabilities report that they want to work and are unable to find a job. Some of the barriers to work people with disabilities encounter are a lack of sufficient education or training, employer or coworker attitudes, and the need for job accommodations.
People with disabilities are particularly underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), which are where the fastest growing careers are located. Barriers to higher education for people with disabilities along with inaccessible laboratories and workshops are two reasons why STEM fields are particularly lacking in employees with disabilities. Despite these barriers, people with disabilities have made significant contributions to the STEM fields. The White House recently honored 14 people with disabilities working in STEM fields as Champions for Change, showing the capabilities of people with disabilities if they are given access to all fields of employment.
As part of the #PwDsVote Disability Questionnaire, the nonpartisan, nonprofit disability organization RespectAbility asked candidates running for president, senate or governor about their plans for promoting employment among people with disabilities. Every candidate was given an equal opportunity to respond and if they are not listed, it is because they declined to answer.
The quotes in this article are the candidates’ answers to question 5 in the gubernatorial/senate questionnaire: “Do you have a proven record on enabling, or a plan to enable, people with disabilities to have jobs, careers and to start their own businesses? Do you have specific strategies for youth employment for people with disabilities and/or sector strategies such as jobs and careers in STEM, hospitality, healthcare and elder care?” This was adapted from a similar question, number 3, in the presidential questionnaire.
Though the candidates proposed a variety of solutions to improve employment for people with disabilities, candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties brought up their support for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for veterans.
“As a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, I worked closely with fellow committee members to draft and pass H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act, legislation containing specific language to promote the employment of individuals with disabilities,” said Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican running for Senate in Nevada. “Once that bill was signed into law, I sent several letters to the Departments of Education and Labor to ensure it is properly implemented, particularly the provisions dealing with the “competitive integrated employment” rules for disabled workers.”
His opponent, Democrat Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto, called for more support for small business owners and entrepreneurs with disabilities, as well as increased training opportunities.
“I support greater access to workforce training and apprenticeship programs in community colleges, high schools and vocational schools aimed at training our workforce for 21st century jobs,” she replied. “I would encourage participation from youth with disabilities to train for careers in these fields.”
You can read the candidates’ full responses below:
NOTE: Donald Trump declined to respond to the survey.
Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton (D)
“A career spent working with [people with disabilities] has shown me time and time again the incredible diversity, talent, and expertise Americans with disabilities bring to our economy. Far too often, persons with disabilities are kept out of our workforce simply because they do not have access to opportunities that ensure they are on equal footing with their counterparts applying for jobs, and because businesses remain uneducated about the incredible set of skills [people with disabilities] bring to bear across industries. Too many Americans with disabilities continue to be left out of the workforce, and for those who are employed, too many are in under-stimulating jobs that don’t fully allow them to use their talents.
That is why my comprehensive plan to support children, youth, and adults living with autism and their families includes the launch of a new Autism Works Initiative, consisting of a post-graduation transition plan for every student with autism aging out of school-based services and a public-private partnership with employers designed to build on proven success stories like Project SEARCH and get more employers invested in providing competitive employment opportunities for people with autism. Alongside the Autism Works Initiative, I will adopt new legislation to fund employment demonstration grants for individuals with autism and other disabilities, and I will push for passage of the bipartisan Transition to Independence Act, which would establish programs in 10 states focused on helping people with disabilities expand employment opportunities and build on the recently-enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
I will also increase tax credits for veterans’ employment through reauthorizing and making permanent the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for veterans, and expanding it to provide credits to businesses that hire veterans with disabilities. I will continue to strengthen vital non-discrimination laws protecting veterans and military families by building on the Uniformed Services Reemployment and Readjustment Act (USERRA) and Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
Research has shown that supported employment helps people with mental health conditions avoid hospitalization, while also giving them the opportunity to earn money and develop their skills. Right now, however, the employment rate for people receiving public mental health services stands below 20 percent. The millions of Americans living with mental health conditions deserve far better, and I will work relentlessly to empower states, communities, and private-sector employers to foster employment opportunities for these individuals.”
State Sen. Colin Bonini (DE-R)
“I completely support enabling folks to have jobs and start businesses. By increasing opportunities for people with disabilities to have jobs, careers and start their own businesses, the entire state will benefit. Previously, I have made calls on behalf of constituents to get their children with disabilities employment at local businesses.”
Rep. John Carney (DE-D)
“My vision of economic development for Delaware includes leading the state through the transition to a more entrepreneurial, 21st century economy. Delaware has to be competitive in the global economy. There are more and more career opportunities for those with technical skills and innovative ideas. I believe that many people with disabilities have the skill and talent to succeed if given these opportunities, and would consider implementing programs that give them any extra support they need.”
Gov. Steve Bullock (MT-D)
“The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services works hard to empower all Montanans with disabilities to prepare, obtain, and retain work in high-quality and high-demand careers. This work includes actively engaging in the states Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to reimagine the state’s vocational rehabilitation, independent living, and disability services to better serve Montanans with disability in living the lives they choose and deserve.”
Mr. Greg Gianforte (MT-R)
“As we all know, there is great dignity in having a job, and I fully support making reforms to our social safety net to remove perverse incentives that punish people for working. No one should have the rug pulled out from under them simply because they want to work and improve their situation.”
Ms. Linda Coleman (NC-D) – running for Lt. Gov.
“I am proud to have supported lifting many barriers to economic opportunity for people with disabilities such as architectural requirements and educational programs. Today, only 30 percent of people with disabilities are working, while 70 percent want to work. Providing resources to successfully implement the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as well as cultivating partnerships to create programs that connect people with disabilities to jobs, internships, and apprenticeships is pivotal. We need to expand affirmative action and anti-discrimination protections for all minorities, which will directly benefit people with disabilities the largest minority in the country. As Lt Governor, I would sit on the State Board for the NC Community College System, where I’d advance career training programs in our community colleges and expand access for people with disabilities.”
Dr. Bud Pierce (OR-R)
“More than anything else, I believe in the dignity of work for all Oregonians. Having work to do, and access to basic health care services, are the major social determinants of health. People with disabilities may require extra help in order to achieve the dignity of work. They may require assistance to obtain secure and safe housing, ideally in a home residence. They may require assistance with transportation. Employers should be encouraged to hire those with disabilities thru financial incentives provided by the government, if necessary. All Oregonians, with or without disabilities, should have access to no/low cost education/training to improve their opportunities for work. Social services should be constructed to always reward work over not working, except for the most severely disabled, who may not be able to work. I support partial loan guarantees, tax credits, and enterprise zones as mechanisms to improved small business start-ups for all Oregonians.”
Mr. Mike Weinholtz (UT-D)
“I have always sought to advocate for those who may not be able to advocate for themselves. Whether barriers be physical, mental, emotional, or any other kind I recognized those barriers often would provide a unique perspective that I very much appreciated. I tried to emulated those values throughout my business practices.
When elected, I will look in to establishing a state program modeled after SourceAmerica and AbilityOne including a call for all state-run agencies to ensure at a minimum 7% of their workforce are people with disabilities.
In regards to jobs and careers in STEM I would work with non-profit agencies to increase funding to autism related job training programs.”
Sec. Sue Minter (VT-D)
“I will make sure that the federal requirement that 15 percent of resources for individuals with disabilities be focused on youth is effectively implemented. As governor, I will continue Vermont’s financial commitment to supported and competitive employment. For example, I support Vermont’s application for a federal grant that will assist high school students with disabilities to focus on desired career paths.”
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (VT-R)
“I believe all of us, regardless of how we are born, deserve the opportunity to be self-sufficient, independent and prosperous. I believe all Vermont youth need stronger connections to the business community, so I will continue to build partnerships between the education and private sectors to provide those opportunities. The key is that these opportunities must truly be open to all, which may mean exploring initiatives such as transportation assistance for those who are unable to drive.”
Mr. Ron Crumpton (AL-D)
“I will strive to expand opportunities in education, employment and health care for Americans with disabilities.”
Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris (CA-D)
“As California Attorney General, Kamala Harris stood up for the employment rights of persons with disabilities. In 2012, she won a lawsuit against the City of Merced Fire Department stemming from the City’s rejection of an applicant for employment as a firefighter due to a perceived disability in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Kamala also supports President Obama’s proposal to award grants to build career centers for individuals with disabilities and his proposals to reform the workforce system through projects targeted at improving education and employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities.”
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-D)
“Over my twenty years in Congress, I have made it a priority to ensure people with disabilities can find meaningful employment. In the U.S. Senate, I will continue to support programs funded under the Workplace Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) which promote coordination of special education through the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). I also support programs under WIOA which allocates money toward federal employment services for youth. Starting a small business should be an option for all people, including those with disabilities. Entrepreneurship is an excellent way to provide flexibility in work schedules and economic mobility. I am a strong supporter of the American’s with Disabilities Act, and voted to pass amendments which expanded the scope of the Act.”
Mr. John Carroll (HI-R)
“I do not have a proven record of this, but yes, I do employ people with disabilities. As for strategies, I do not have any at this time. I take and will take each situation as it comes.”
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (IL-D)
“I have fought consistently for expanding opportunity for people with disabilities, and I will continue to do so in the future. Economic opportunity and autonomy are vital to ensuring independence and equality for those with disabilities.
That’s why I want to make sure every child has access to a quality public education, regardless of where he or she lives. It’s also important that children with disabilities receive the same opportunities to receive a quality education as any other child. I’ll work to ensure we’re investing in education with an emphasis on STEM areas, so we can fill the jobs of the future, and I’ll work to link graduates up with local employers. I’ve also supported strong funding for IDEA and other programs that ensure disabled students can get quality education.
I’m a cosponsor of the TIME Act, which will prohibit employers from being able to pay disabled Americans below the minimum wage. I also helped introduce the Transit Accessibility Innovation Act to help make public transit more accessible because disabled Americans rely on it more than most and it is critical to enabling them to go to work and live independent lives.”
Mr. Patrick Wiesner (KS-D)
“I have not previously held elected office. So I don’t public have a record on this subject.”
Mr. Foster Campbell (LA-D)
“Throughout my 40 years of public service and throughout my time as a small business owner, I have seen time and time again the unique contributions that people with disabilities bring to the workplace. Too many businesses aren’t educated about the skill set that people with disabilities offer. And for that reason, too many Americans with a disability are under employed or unemployed.
In order to ensure that we use the talents of every American to grow our economy, I will support policies that promote the independence of people with disabilities and expand employment opportunities in the recently passed WIOA. I will support transitions from graduation to employment that assist students with disabilities that age out of school based services.”
Ms. Caroline Fayard (LA-D)
“I will fully support enforcement of the ADA and plan to push for legislation that promotes employment for [people with disabilities]. Expanding the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for veterans with disabilities is another initiative that I am excited to support. I also believe that it is essential that we take care of our youth with disabilities and I consider it a top priority to deliver on our commitment to these children and young adults. That is why I am committed to increasing the effective federal per student cost for every special education student. Our current federal share stands under 16 percent, when we’ve committed to pay 40 percent in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).”
Mr. Abhay Patel (LA-R)
“Having helped lead economic development for the city of New Orleans, I understand what it takes to create, attract and retain business. As Senator, I will work to increase access for those with disabilities to jobs and careers in all sectors.”
Del. Kathy Szeliga (MD-R)
“As a former Baltimore City school teacher, I understand the impact a good education can have on the next generation. Right now, our education system is too cookie-cutter and doesn’t properly prepare our students for the economy they are facing. We need to promote careers in the trade as well as college and we need to make sure that our education system is accessible to all students so that everyone can achieve the American Dream.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-D)
“I am committed to ensuring that persons with disabilities have the opportunity to pursue their employment dreams, whether that is through supported employment or by starting a business of their own. I supported the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which made some strides towards encouraging integrated employment, but we must do more. I’ve worked with the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, the Arc, and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities to introduce the Transitions to Independence Act in the House of Representatives, which will create a pilot program in states to move individuals out of segregated settings and into integrated, supported employment.
For young people, we need to ensure that they have access to career-building opportunities like internships that give important experiences. We must improve transitions to postsecondary education and accessibility services in college, as well as post-graduation transition plans. In addition to having integrated employment opportunities, persons with disabilities deserve the chance to explore their interests and find jobs that engage and excite them.
I also believe we need to make the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for veterans permanent to provide greater incentives for employers to hire veterans with disabilities.”
Sec. of State Jason Kander (MO-D)
“As a country, we need to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Considering that those with disabilities are more likely to face barriers to the workforce and thus their own financial independence, it is imperative that we strengthen the middle class, improve public education and treat higher education like a public good. I believe that all families should have access to a high-quality public school for their children and have given my support to initiatives that would help achieve that, including funding non-compulsory early education programs, setting clear standards for federal funding so all children have the tools to succeed, and advocating for our teachers so they receive the proper job training and benefits needed to excel in the workplace.
At both the federal and state level, we need to combat the rising cost of higher education. Some of my policy ideas to achieve this include: allowing students to refinance their student loans similar to a loan for a house or a car; placing a cap on federal student loan interest rates; expanding the Pell Grant program to reduce dependency on college loans for low-income students; creating standards for for-profit colleges to ensure graduates are prepared for gainful employment, and that fraudulent recruitment and financial practices do not devalue a student’s degree; and increasing diversity on college campuses, through pre-existing initiatives such as recruiting from underrepresented communities and establishing faculty diversity standards.”
Rep. Joe Heck (NV-R)
“As a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, I worked closely with fellow committee members to draft and pass H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act, legislation containing specific language to promote the employment of individuals with disabilities. Once that bill was signed into law, I sent several letters to the Departments of Education and Labor to ensure it is properly implemented, particularly the provisions dealing with the “competitive integrated employment” rules for disabled workers. One area of concern was the interpretation of “competitive integrated employment” by the Rehabilitation Services Administration and how it could affect the employment status of individuals with disabilities at McCarran International Airport.”
Atty. Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV-D)
“During my campaign I have publicly supported a number of proposals aimed at leveling the playing field for small business owners, particularly those underserved entrepreneurs who are looking for more opportunities to access capital and professional business development – specifically fair funding for Small Business Development Centers and Women Business Centers. I support greater access to workforce training and apprenticeship programs in community colleges, high schools and vocational schools aimed at training our workforce for 21st century jobs. I would encourage participation from youth with disabilities to train for careers in these fields.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH-R)
“I helped introduce the Transitioning the Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act, which would repeal an antiquated section of the Fair Labor Standards Act that effectively allows discrimination by allowing employers to pay workers with disabilities subminimum wages. Individuals with disabilities deserve to find meaningful employment without facing discrimination over their wages, and I’ll continue to seek out opportunities to ensure they have that opportunity.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan (NH-D)
“During this campaign I released my Innovate NH 2.0 economic plan to foster innovation, support job-creating businesses and expand opportunity for hard-working families. In that plan I lay out proposals to help all people start their own businesses, invest in STEM education and ensure a healthy workforce. See the plan here.
As we’ve worked across state government to meet the workforce needs of our businesses, we have made sure vocational rehabilitation is at the table and part of our efforts. NH Vocational Rehabilitation Services was an integral partner in forming New Hampshire’s recent Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) combined state plan. This plan incorporates additional workforce training opportunities for people who experience disabilities, including youth.
In the Senate, I will continue working to ensure that people with disabilities have jobs, careers and can start their own businesses.”
Sen. Richard Burr (NC-R)
“Since 2007, I have worked with Beyond Academics in Greensboro, North Carolina, to expand the Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) program, which strengthens the transition from postsecondary education to jobs. TPSID provides grants to colleges and universities with a demonstrated commitment to helping students with disabilities achieve. From there, colleges and universities partner with nonprofits, such as Beyond Academics, to set high expectations for students and an ingrained culture that every student will not only graduate, but will move on to competitive integrated employment. I was honored to be the first commencement speaker for this partnership and to see first-hand how this program, through the use of TPSID, has increased the number of students graduating who go into the workforce. This is one of my most treasured accomplishments.
Additionally, I supported WIOA, which placed a renewed emphasis on Title II’s Youth Employment Program by placing greater resources in job-training for in-school and out-of-school youth who are seeking job-training opportunities. These opportunities, in addition to WIOA’s Title V disabilities provisions, will hopefully open doors of opportunity for people with disabilities for jobs of today and the future.”
State Rep. Deborah Ross (NC-D)
“I believe that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules should be able to get ahead in life, and people with disabilities deserve the same opportunities as everyone else. This means making college more affordable for everyone, increasing K-12 school funding for schools so they can better meet the diverse needs of their student bodies, providing early work experiences and community college training, and creating public-private partnerships that break through employment challenges. This is a top priority of mine because inclusive, accessible, and affordable education enriches students, grows our economy, and keeps our nation globally competitive.
In the State House, I supported alternatives, like virtual charter schools, to expand educational opportunities for students with different needs and for students in rural areas. I sponsored legislation to establish a college grant fund for economically disadvantaged students, supported measures to allocate more state lottery funds to underserved public schools, and sponsored tax deductions for families saving for college. I am committed to increasing funding for Pell Grants, capping student loan interest rates, helping students refinance loans at lower rates, providing debt-free community college for students who work hard and make good grades, and expanding income-based student loan repayment options for those with unmanageable debt.
I will also work to expand early work experiences and apprenticeships in high school, as well as through the debt-free community college programs, so that all students, including those with disabilities, can be empowered to achieve successful transitions to the workplace.”
Mr. Joe DeMare (OH-G)
“When I had a business installing wind turbines and solar panels, I did not have any full time employees, but I hired a deaf employee part time when I needed help. Our son attended, and we have donated to, Camp Mark Seven in New York, which is a camp staffed by deaf for deaf children.
Greens believe that post secondary education should be free for all Americans. Education is key to employment in our technologically advanced society. With our plan, disabled will be able to receive the education necessary to earn a degree or certificate without suffering financially.”
Mr. Mark Callahan (OR-R)
“By hiring Narlina Duke as my campaign manager, I believe I have shown that I am committed to enabling the disabled to work, as well I am supportive of her career and providing her with a job. I have not written any specific legislation, however upon being elected, I intend on reaching out to the disability organizations, and discussing how I can be of assistance to achieve these things. I believe the disability organizations will have the best ideas and solutions of how to do this.”
Mrs. Katie McGinty (PA-D)
“Barriers to employment and discrimination are all too real for people with disabilities. We can and we must take steps to tear those barriers down – both to combat inequality and grow our economy, because it just makes plain economic sense to have people with disabilities fully engaged in our workforce. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act took important steps towards expanding on the Americans with Disabilities Act by expanding access to quality job training programs for people with disabilities. We can do so much more. I support smart ideas like the Transition to Independence Act, introduced by my friend Senator Bob Casey, which would create a multi-state demonstration program aimed at increased involvement in integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities.”
Mr. Jay Williams (SD-D)
“Beyond my efforts as a member of our community mental health center’s board, I have no track record on improving the situation for people with disabilities. I do support these efforts and if elected I promise to do whatever I can to ensure people with disabilities have opportunities to participate in the American dream just as all citizens do. Discrimination in any form is contrary to the American spirit and I am committed to do whatever I can to eliminate discrimination wherever I encounter it.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT-D)
“I am committed to fighting discrimination that prevents a person from obtaining a job or accessing public services. Congress needs to lead the way, backed by actions by the U.S. Department of Justice, in allowing those with disabilities to fully participate and contribute to everyday life. We must, at every level of government, improve the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and hold violators accountable.”
Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (WI-D)
“In 1996, I voted for legislation to create the work opportunity tax credit, which helps to create new employment opportunities for people with disabilities. I also support full implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in order to better connect people with disabilities to vocational programs and employment opportunities. I have been an advocate for affordable and accessible higher education, which is one pathway for people with disabilities to build careers across sectors, including STEM.
I also support funding for small businesses owned by people with disabilities. Meanwhile, my opponent was one of just three Senators to vote against the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Plan and also voted against doubling the tax credit for hiring veterans with disabilities.”
RespectAbility has asked all the candidates for Governor and Senator on both sides of the aisle to complete the same questionnaire. We will share responses from additional campaigns as we receive them.
The RespectAbility Report is a nonpartisan political commentary on the 2016 U.S. elections with a focus on disability issues. The RespectAbility Report has covered all of the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, senate and governor. Coverage can be found at https://therespectabilityreport.org/. The RespectAbility Report is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.