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Gov. Hochul pushes New York to Become Model on Disability Employment

Albany, NY, February 10 – This past week, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York announced new plans to create a comprehensive design for workforce development strategies in the Empire State. Gov. Hochul has launched a seven-pronged initiative that will establish New York as a national model for the employment of individuals with disabilities and protection for all working New Yorkers. This initiative comes as part of her “State of the State 2022 Agenda” to upscale the local economy and labor force in New York state. 

The pandemic hit New York hard. As of fall 2021, the Empire State’s job deficit far exceeded that of every other state. Currently in New York, the unemployment rate is three times higher than the national average. 

“In order to come back stronger, we must be creative with our approach and work directly with regional partners who have been on the ground helping connect New Yorkers with employment,” Gov. Hochul said. “New York State is committed to ensuring its disabled workers have equal opportunities and are supported in the workplace and beyond. We are committed to making sure those with disabilities have fair and quality employment options in this state.”

This is an important public commitment for the more than 1,077,425 working-age-people living with disabilities in New York. The shocking news is that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, New York had only a 35 percent disability employment rate. By contrast, New Yorkers without disabilities had an employment rate of 78.3 percent. This means there was a 42-percentage point gap in labor force participation rates between people with and without disabilities.

This disparity is even more striking when broken down by race. 37.5 percent of working-age people with disabilities who are white have jobs compared to only 28.3 percent of those who are Black, 33.6 percent of those who are Hispanic/LatinX and 38.5 percent of those who are AAPI. 

The so-called “Seven-Pronged Initiative” will invest in an array of programs and services to reshape NY’s future workforce. This involves improvements in seven main areas.

1) Making New York a model for the employment of people with disabilities by:

  1. Establishing the Office of the Chief Disability Officer.
  2. Addressing the multitude of barriers affecting the employment of New Yorkers with disability and making specific and action-oriented recommendations.
  3. Making sure that companies mainstream their hiring practices to attract and retain disabled workers.
  4. Working with local businesses to remove barriers to employment of individuals with disabilities and assisting job seekers in finding these roles.
  5. Leveraging Federal contracts and state tax credits to further incentivize employers for hiring disabled individuals.
  6. Expanding the New York State’s Commission for the Blind’s Business Enterprise Program.
  7. Identifying the best use for existing state-funded trainings, employment, vocational rehabilitation, youth transition, and adult career and continuing education programs.

2) Creating the Office of Workforce and Economic Development to support NY taskforce development by:

  1. Identifying strategies and solutions tailored to meet the needs of local employers as well as workers.
  2. Allocating funds on a continual basis through REDCs to build up a pipeline of new, highly skilled workers in all domains.
  3. Supporting the office of new Americans to help youth gain meaningful employment and move up in their careers.

3) Allowing more New Yorkers with disabilities to have a job while in school by:

  1. Increasing part-time tuition assistance funding to cover at least 75,000 new students.
  2. Making student work experiences count toward degree credits.
  3. Providing funds for non-degree workforce trainings and new internship opportunities at CUNY and SUNY.
  4. Incentivizing concurrent enrollment programs around credit achievement and matriculation.

4) Encouraging apprenticeships for women, individuals with disabilities, and people of color in fast-growing sectors, such as IT, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing by:

  1. Extending apprenticeship programs for CUNY and SUNY students.
  2. Raising employer incentives and tax exemptions to hire disabled youth.
  3. Creating an online portal to help connect New Yorkers with apprenticeships and organizations that are the right match for them.

5) Promoting a diverse civil service workforce by:

  1. Establishing new civil service testing centers at SUNY college campuses to make exams available to disabled job seekers within their community.
  2. Increasing the number of disabled hirings in the public sector and allowing workers under the 55 B/C programs to move to competitive class positions. 

6) Expanding the state technology workforce by:

  1. Building a technical talent pipeline by offering internships, fellowships, and mid-career opportunities in the digital government service sector, including individuals from underrepresented groups.
  2. Creating a two-year fellowship program as an extension to the Excelsior fellowship so that recent graduates can enter a career in technology right after school.
  3. Establishing a new digital SWAT team in which mid-career technologists will have a chance to work on building up the digital government service sector for 18 months.

7) Protecting and strengthening worker’s rights:

  1. Proposing legislation to eliminate non-compete agreements for workers making below the median wage in NY. This is an important announcement for the more than 29.7 percent of households with working-age people with disabilities who earn below the median wage.
  2. Proposing legislation to increase criminal penalties for employers who commit wage theft.
  3. Modernizing the process of filing labor law claims and ensuring that it is accessible to individuals with disabilities.

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Olegario Cantos VII, Chairman of the national disability inclusion organization RespectAbility. “New Yorkers with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve financial independence, just like anyone else.” 

The success or failure of getting more people with disabilities integrated into the workforce impacts thousands of communities and millions of families nationwide. According to the Census Bureau, there are more than fifty-six million Americans living with a disability. Disabilities include visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, visual impairments or hearing loss and nonvisible disabilities such as learning disabilities, mental health, or Autism.

Brand name companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, Ernst & Young, IBM, Walgreens, Starbucks, CVs and Microsoft know that workers with disabilities improve the bottom line and add value to the workforce. 

“People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to the workplace,” added RespectAbility’s Policy and Practices Director Philip Kahn-Pauli. “There are no limits to what we can do when given the chance.”


The public is encouraged to reach out to their governors on these issues. Contact information for Governors can be found at USA.gov. To learn more about RespectAbility’s advocacy work, please visit our Policy website.

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