Washington, D.C., March 27 – Nationwide 111,804 people with disabilities got new jobs last year, including 10,471 new jobs for Virginians with disabilities. Virginia now ranks 18th among the 50 states in terms of the Commonwealth’s employment rate for people with disabilities. The newly published 2018 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium shows there are 500,771 working-age (ages 18-64) people with disabilities living in Virginia. Out of that number, 204,103 have jobs. That means the Old Dominion State has a disability employment rate of 40.8 percent.
Further analysis by the nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility shows that Virginia’s disability employment rate has steadily increased over the past three years. Last year, Virginia ranked 23rd in the nation in terms of disability employment. Now that the Old Dominion state has expanded employment opportunities, Virginia is now outperforming far bigger states like California and Texas.
A great example of the new opportunities open to Virginians with disabilities is an on-going program called “Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities (CPID).” CPID is part of a broad effort to train “young adults, including those with disabilities, for promising careers in in-demand industries including advanced manufacturing and technology.”
Likewise, Virginia is home to other programs dedicated to best practices. One great example comes from Project SEARCH, a transformational school-to-work transition program for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In diverse places such as Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg, Carilion Clinic New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg, and VCU Medical Center and Prince William Hospital in Manassas, youth with disabilities have the chance to learn new skills and enter the workforce.
“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 Virginia, 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 health of the American economy.