Washington, DC., March 13 – More people with disabilities in Nebraska continued to gain new jobs last year, continuing a trend from the year prior.
The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows that Nebraska has a 49.3 disability employment rate. That puts Nebraska fourth in the nation for employing people with disabilities. Further analysis by the nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility shows that in 2017, 2,068 Nebraskans with disabilities entered the workforce. That means that out of 112,418 working-age (18-64) Nebraskans with disabilities, 55,391 have jobs.
Under Gov. Pete Ricketts, the state has paid particular attention to diversity and the talent of working-age population with disabilities. Programs such as Nebraska Vocational Rehabilitation have worked hard to screen and prepare job seekers with disabilities by identifying their strengths, addressing their weaknesses and matching them with appropriate jobs. The program crucially “offers customized and individualized services that are tailored to your specific needs and job goal.”
Nebraska VR also partners with businesses, school systems, the Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Assistive Technology Partnership, and Division of Developmental Disabilities to create Project SEARCH. Nebraska has 17 Project SEARCH sites. At one of these sites, UNMC/Nebraska Medicine, all nine students who participated in the latest class got hired. Project SEARCH is a proven business-led program where students with disabilities get hands on real-world job skills in their final year of high school. SEARCH already served more than 3,000 young adults with disabilities by 2015 and 78 percent of them found jobs. The businesses that participate are un-subsidized and incorporate the talents of the students with disabilities fully into their office.
Another Project SEARCH site, Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha-La Vista, under the direction of David Scott, is a prime example of progress of jobs for people with disabilities in Nebraska. Bruce Peoples, who is on the autism spectrum, is an example of success. He has worked full-time in the banquet department at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Omaha-La Vista, Nebraska since May 2013. He helps set up and tear down corporate meetings, wedding receptions, gala fund raisers, exhibitions and a myriad of other events. Recently he bought a car with the money he had earned working at the hotel after obtaining his driver’s license. Working at the Embassy Suites Hotel instilled a strong confidence in Peoples. He was proud of both accomplishments and made sure to share the news with his fellow staff members at the hotel.
“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.”
A National Issue
Beyond Nebraska, 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, Walgreens, 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 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 health of the American economy.