Washington, March 5 – As the economy expands, for the first time in decades people with disabilities are gaining jobs, success and independence. According to new data, 7,191 more people with disabilities in Tennessee became employed. People with disabilities have previously been left out of periods of economic growth, today’s workforce system is better aligned to enable people with disabilities to succeed, just like anyone else.
This week, America’s governors gathered in Washington for the National Governors Association meeting to talk about these and other key issues During the Winter Meeting, Governor Bill Haslam took questions about jobs for people with disabilities in Tennessee. When asked, Governor Haslam said: “You know in Tennessee we have a fundamental belief that all means all, and so when we talk about increasing the job environment workforce opportunities, we think that covers everyone.” He went on to add “Our department of Intellectual Development disabilities working with our Department of Human services, our economic community development folks have worked really hard to put programs together to match employers with folks with disabilities and appropriate skill level jobs and its working.”
When asked about promoting educational attainment for students with disabilities, the Governor said that “You know one of our goals in Tennessee is to have 55% of our population have a post-secondary degree or certificate, for that’s a possibility for a lot our population with a disability then maybe people think it is.”
According to RespectAbility, a national organization that fights stigma and advances opportunity for people with disabilities, Tennessee ranks 45thon jobs for people with disabilities. In total, there are 558,852 working-age people with disabilities living in Tennessee and 174,340 of them have jobs. With an employment rate of 31.2% for its people with disabilities, Tennessee is now a better place for people with disabilities to be employed.
Governors have a critical role to play as the economy grows and state advance opportunities for citizens of all disabilities. Former Governor Jack Markell of Delaware is a model of what a state chief executive can accomplish by making jobs for people with disabilities a key priority. As Governor, Markell chaired national initiatives with both the National Governors Association (NGA) and later the Council on State Governments (CSG). Both the Better Bottom Line Initiative of the NGA and CSG’s Work Matters Report, focused on fighting stigmas, supporting strong public policies and using best practices at the state level.
A key finding in both reports was that people should look to major companies that have made a commitment to employing people with disabilities to see what is possible. Nationally, big name businesses have been at the forefront of driving success and inclusion. Companies including JP Morgan Chase, Pepsi, UPS, SAP, EY, IBM, Starbucks and Walgreens have seen that people with disabilities are successful employees who improve businesses’ bottom lines. Indeed, many people with disabilities also have spectacular abilities.
RespectAbility, like most governors and employers, emphasizes the critical link between education attainment and workforce development. “Employment rates only tell part of the story,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, Policy and Practices Director at RespectAbility, “Educational attainment is critical to the success of youth with disabilities because the jobs of the future require technical education and skill training.” Tennessee had an overall high school graduation rate of 88.5% in 2016, but only 71.8% of the students with disabilities graduated. That puts Tennessee students with disabilities behind other minority students who graduate high school at higher rates.
Nationally, 343,483 Americans with disabilities entered the competitive workforce last year. “Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” Mizrahi added. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”
For more information on state initiatives: http://drivedisabilityemployment.org