Washington, D.C., March 9 — As the economy expands, for the first time in decades people with disabilities are gaining jobs, success and independence. According to new data, 4,139 more people with disabilities in Alaska gained employment. People with disabilities previously have 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.
Recently, 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 Walker of Alaska spoke publicly with Governor Kasich of Ohio and Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado on how to provide affordable, quality health care to the largest number of people. Many believe that the best way to provide reasonably priced health care to people with disabilities is through good jobs. All three governors emphasized the part major employers should play in demanding quality health care for their employees, highlighting the need to provide people with disabilities competitive employment to allow them to support their own health.
According to RespectAbility, a national nonprofit organization that fights stigma and advances opportunity for people with disabilities, Alaska now ranks 5th on jobs for people with disabilities. In total, there are 50,330 working-age people with disabilities living in that state and 24,090 of them have jobs. With an 47.9 percent employment rate for its people with disabilities, Alaska now outperforms most of the country.
Governors have a critical role to play as the economy grows and states advance opportunities for citizens of all disabilities. Former Gov. 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, he 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 were 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.”
Alaska had an overall high school graduation rate of 85.7 percent in 2016, but only 77.5 percent of the students with disabilities graduated.
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,” RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “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