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As Pennsylvania Gains 6406 Jobs for People with Disabilities, Gov. Wolf’s Employment First Policy Helps Pennsylvanians with Disabilities Find Work

Tom Wolf headshot
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 11 – More people with disabilities in Pennsylvania continued to gain new jobs last year, continuing a trend from the year prior.

The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows Pennsylvania is currently ranked 30th out of 50 states with 329,760 of the 880,799 working-age (18-64) people with disabilities being employed. This gives the state an employment rate of 37.4 percent for people with disabilities. Further analysis by the nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility shows that in 2017, the employment rate was at 35.5 percent. From 2017-2018 Pennsylvania’s employment rates increased for people with disabilities as 6,406 Pennsylvanians with disabilities found new employment opportunities.

“37.4 percent employment for people with disabilities represents progress that we must build upon,” said RespectAbility Board of Directors member Richard G. Phillips, Jr. Philips, a Pennsylvania business leader and change agent, was elected to the RespectAbility Board in September 2018.

A Priority for Pennsylvania

In the weeks prior to his re-election, Gov. Wolf affirmed his commitments on jobs for Pennsylvanians with disabilities in a proclamation sent to RespectAbility in October in honor of Disability Employment Awareness Month. “Workplaces that welcome the talents of all people, including people with disabilities, are a critical part of efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy,” wrote Wolf in his proclamation. “This month will reinforce the value and talent people with disabilities add to our workplace and communities and affirm Pennsylvania’s commitment to be an inclusive community.”

Over the past few years, Wolf has become a true champion on jobs for people with disabilities. In 2016 he signed an executive order declaring that Pennsylvania would be an Employment First state. The order itself states: “Workers with a disability add value to the workplace…they can be dedicated, loyal, and productive members of a team and can improve a company’s bottom line.” That order was followed by new laws signed this year to fully deliver on the promise of more jobs for more Pennsylvanians with disabilities. He even has committed his state government to becoming a model employer by offering internships for students with disabilities.

Likewise, Pennsylvania is also home to innovative programs for people with disabilities. Located in Bryn Mawr, JCHAI is a multi-faceted organization with cutting-edge inclusive, supportive vocational programs and living options for people with a range of disabilities. Since inception, JCHAI has expanded to offer a range of independent living options and work training in the community. They also have developed a transition program to teach independent living and vocational skills to people with disabilities who do not participate in the residential programs yet. As a result of unique services that provide person-specific supports, JCHAI’s program yields a competitive employment rate of approximately 80 percent for its 130 clients.

The founder of JCHAI, Judith Creed, also serves on RespectAbility’s Board of Directors. “Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Creed. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to live independent lives, just like anyone else.”

Across the state Project SEARCH offers school-to-work opportunities for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities to enter the competitive workforce. Project SEARCH is a unique, employer-driven transition program that prepares students with disabilities for employment success. From serving seniors to opening pathways into healthcare careers, these opportunities are having transformative impacts on the lives of young people with disabilities. In diverse places such as UPMC Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, Wellspan Hospital in Gettysburg, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network in Allentown and at Drexel University, young Pennsylvanians with disabilities are receiving the training, experience and skills they need to succeed.

A National Issue

Beyond Pennsylvania, 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 Hon. Steve Bartlett, current Chairman of Respectability, who co-authored the Americans with Disabilities Act when he was in Congress. “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 health of the American economy.

Lauren Appelbaum is a native of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, where her parents still reside. 

Published inDemocratsGovernors

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