Washington, D.C., March 7 – During the 2019 National Governors’ Association winter meeting, newly elected Idaho Gov. Brad Little said disability employment is benefiting the entire economy of his state. “Our employment rate for the disabled is going way up,” the governor said. “That’s the old rising tides raises all ships.”
The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows there are 125,743 working-age people (ages 18-64) with disabilities living in Idaho. Out of that number, only 54,948 Idahoans with disabilities have jobs. That means the Gem State has a disability employment rate of 43.7 percent. Further analysis by the nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility shows that Idaho ranks 13th in the country for disability employment and that more than 4,800 people with disabilities entered the workforce last year.
“There’s so many jobs,” added Gov. Little. “We’re getting more and more and encouraging people with disabilities [through] our Department of Labor.”
“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, current Chairman of RespectAbility, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act when he was in Congress. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”
However, critical barriers to employment still exist in Idaho and in other states. At the same time that Gov. Little was elected, Idaho’s voters overwhelmingly backed a ballot measure to expand Medicaid eligibility. However, that initiative currently is bound up in a legal fight, even as the state legislature moves to put in further requirements on Medicaid eligibility.
A National Issue
Beyond Idaho, how is the workforce changing for people with disabilities? What is driving these changes? The answer is simple. According to Vincenzo Piscopo of the Coca-Cola Company: “People with disabilities bring a unique skill set that it is very valuable for companies.” He went on to add, “As it relates to employment and competitiveness in the workplace, we have to stop thinking of disability as a liability and start thinking of it as an asset.”
Brand-name companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, Ernst & Young, IBM, Walgreen’s, Starbucks, CVS and Microsoft show people with disabilities are successful employees. These companies also know that these workers improve the bottom line. “People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to the workplace,” said RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. “Hiring people with disabilities is a win-win-win for employers, people with disabilities and consumers alike.”
As more companies hire employees with disabilities, conversations are shifting to focus on inclusion. “Disability inclusion is no longer about automatic doors, curb cuts, ramps, and legislation,” says Jim Sinocchi, Head of the Office of Disability Inclusion at JP Morgan Chase. “Today, the new era of disability inclusion is about “assimilation” – hiring professionals with disabilities into the robust culture of the firm.”
According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 56 million Americans living with a disability. Disabilities include visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, visual impairments or hearing loss and invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities, mental health or Autism.
An Election Issue
Voter research conducted by RespectAbility shows how disability issues connect to all aspects of American life. “Fully three-quarters of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities,” said former Representative and Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett. “People with disabilities are politically active swing voters, and candidates should take note of the important issues they care about.”
As 2019 moves into 2020 and the political campaign season heats up, continuing job growth for people with disabilities will be a crucial indicator of the American economy’s health.