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Matt Mead on Wyoming’s First in the Nation Standing on Jobs for People with Disabilities

Washington, Feb. 27 – With 57 percent of their citizens with disabilities employed, the state of Wyoming has good reason to be proud. Speaking with The RespectAbility Report at the National Governor’s Association’s Winter Meeting, Gov. Matt Mead credited Wyoming’s “culture and heritage” for why his state has the highest employment rate for people with disabilities of any state in the nation.

Mead says this culture is part of a common desire to “make sure we are doing our best for every one of our citizens.” Mead added that people in his state understand that what is “best for our state” is “giving every citizen an opportunity.”

The statistics show that Wyoming’s commitment to people with disabilities has consistently placed it at the very top of all the states in terms of employment rates for people with disabilities. Currently, the Cowboy States has a 57.1 percent employment rate for their citizens with disabilities, up from the 50.7 percent employment reported by RespectAbility in 2015. An analysis of Census Bureau data collected by the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disabilities shows that 4,042 Wyomingites with disabilities entered the workforce between 2014 and 2015. That figure means that 21,508 out of 37,643 working age people with disabilities have jobs in Wyoming.

Mead identified the business community in his state as being a key driver of the economic success being experienced by Wyomingites with disabilities. He specifically credits companies as having “an uncommon desire…to recognize the opportunities” for people with disabilities to enter the workforce.

“Not only does it provide opportunity for the individual,” Mead said, but businesses also see lower rates of turnover among employees with disabilities. The cost of employee turnover is the biggest cost driver for many businesses.

As examples of an inclusive employer who is committed to unleashing the talent of people with disabilities, Mead cited Vertical Harvest in Jackson, Wyoming. Vertical Harvest is “one of the world’s first vertical greenhouses.” A critical element of the employment model is a deep commitment to offering a “fully integrated work place… [for] local Wyoming residents with intellectual and physical disabilities.” Mead said that “not only provides great employment for those citizens, it also provides a great product.”

In the end, Mead had a simple message about disability employment: “It’s good for the individual and it’s good for business.”

That message has been put into action by the hard work of many self-advocates, disability groups and committed businesses in Wyoming. From 1997 to 2012, the U.S. Business Leadership Network operated in nine communities. However, shifts in state policies have resulted in there now only being one affiliate chapter in the southwest corner of the state. The Uinta County Business Leadership Network (UCBLN) won the USBLN Affiliate of the Year Award in 2015. Wyoming also has benefitted from the MentorAbility program, which emulates the strategies used by the Project SEARCH school-to-work transition program.

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