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New Program for Workers with Disabilities in Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, PA, August 31 – Pennsylvanians with disabilities who want to earn an income and become independent have new options for doing so, thanks to a new program signed into law on July 1 by Governor Tom Wolf. Pennsylvania Act 69 means more workers with disabilities in Pennsylvania will be able to pursue employment and earn money without risking the loss of potentially life-saving benefits. 

This is important news for the nearly 1 million working-age people living with disabilities in the Keystone State. In the economic expansion prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania had a 38.8 percent disability employment rate. However, hundreds of thousands of workers with disabilities lost their jobs due to the pandemic and they are now navigating a radically different labor force. 

“After the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities,” said Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, Chairman of the national disability inclusion organization RespectAbility. “Pennsylvania has just expanded the type of program that directly helps people with disabilities enter the workforce without fear of losing the benefits that help them manage their disability. This is a win-win-win for Pennsylvania itself, Pennsylvania-based employers, and people with disabilities.”

Voter Guide for 1,774,575 Pennsylvanians with Disabilities

Key actions and positions posted on the intersection of disability and education, jobs, immigration, climate crisis, criminal justice and more

by Adam Fishbein

Harrisburg, PA, Oct. 5 – In the run up to the 2020 election in Pennsylvania, the nonpartisan disability rights nonprofit RespectAbility has released its latest Pennsylvania State Voter Guide. According to the 2019 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, the total number of Pennsylvanians with disabilities is a massive 1,774,575, making up 14.1 percent of the total state population.

2018 employment data shows that there are 885,157 working-age people with disabilities in the Keystone State. In the economic expansion prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 333,140 (or 37.6 percent) of those Pennsylvanians had jobs. 

The nonpartisan disability group RespectAbility has asked Democratic and Republican candidates for President, Governor and the U.S. Senate the same seven key questions about issues affecting people with disabilities, including employment, education, criminal justice and accessibility. RespectAbility has sent multiple emails and placed many phone calls to the campaigns in order to solicit responses to the questionnaire. Below you can read responses from candidates on the ballot in Pennsylvania who have already taken the time to address the concerns of voters with disabilities.

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.

Disability Supporter Wolf Wins Gubernatorial Re-Election in Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Nov. 7 – Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has won re-election, defeating Republican challenger Scott Wagner for Pennsylvania’s governorship. Recently 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. RespectAbility is a nonpartisan,…

Disability Advocate Bob Casey Keeps Pennsylvania Seat in U.S. Senate

My Portrait SessionsPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, Nov. 6 – Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., successfully defended his seat against Republican challenger Lou Barletta, who had hoped to unseat Casey in Pennsylvania.

Earlier this campaign season, Casey completed a disability issues questionnaire for Senate and gubernatorial candidates put out by RespectAbility, a nonpartisan, nonprofit national organization working to end stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities. The questionnaire included 10 questions on topics important to people with disabilities and those close to them. Despite repeated requests to his campaign, Barletta did not respond to the questionnaire.

More than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians live with a disability. That total includes people who are blind or deaf or have other visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, as well as people with invisible disabilities including learning disabilities, mental health or Autism.

In responding to the questionnaire, Casey noted his efforts in blocking House-passed legislation, the Americans With Disabilities Education and Reform Act. “If passed,” Casey said, the legislation “would have gutted Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act and removed the incentives for those providing services to the general public to make those services accessible for people with disabilities.”

“While employment, education, health care, and other key policies are critical to reaching the goals” of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he added, “protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities is primary and the House bill took direct aim at the rights of people with disabilities.”

With 64.5 percent of Pennsylvania’s 909,897 working-age people with disabilities out of work, employment is one area of high importance. There are reasons to optimistic. Last year, 6,993 Pennsylvanians with disabilities got new jobs and the year before that saw 13,763 people with disabilities getting new jobs. Pennsylvania currently ranks 31st in employing people with disabilities compared to the rest of the country. However, often there is an issue where if one makes too much money, they lose their ability to have any assistance – including a personal care assistant who may be necessary for an individual to live independently and then be able to be employed.

Casey noted that he was “the primary Senate author of the Stephen Beck A Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014, making it possible for people who acquire their disability before age 26 to open a savings account that allows them to save up to $15,000 a year up to a total of $100,000 and not lose their federal disability benefits… Since its passage, 39 states have created ABLE account programs, making it possible for people with disabilities to save for education expenses, begin small businesses, put away money for a car, or purchase a home.”

Pennsylvania is 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. 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.

While Casey’s answers are extremely thorough in detailing policy toward full inclusion and equity for people with disabilities, Casey also works to ensure he practices what he preaches. His office has hired employees with disabilities and has worked with the Senate Democratic Diversity office “to create a database of people with disabilities interested in working in Senate offices both in Washington, D.C., and in the state offices.” By employing people with disabilities, Casey, and other Members of Congress, can become more informed about how different policies affect individuals with disabilities in a real way and ensure that people with disabilities are included throughout the entire process.

The full text of RespectAbility’s questions and Sen. Casey’s responses follows:

With 64.5% of Pennsylvanians with Disabilities Out of Work, Casey Discusses Job Prospects

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Oct.25 – With 64.5 percent of Pennsylvania’s 909,897 working-age people with disabilities out of work, incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., has issued an official response to a questionnaire by the disabilities advocacy group RespectAbility, outlining his views on training and hiring people with disabilities.

In responses to 10 questions submitted by the organization, Casey noted his efforts in blocking House-passed legislation, the Americans With Disabilities Education and Reform Act. “If passed,” Casey said, the legislation “would have gutted Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act and removed the incentives for those providing services to the general public to make those services accessible for people with disabilities.”

“While employment, education, health care, and other key policies are critical to reaching the goals” of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he added, “protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities is primary and the House bill took direct aim at the rights of people with disabilities.”

Casey noted that he was “the primary Senate author of the Stephen Beck A Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act in 2014, making it possible for people who acquire their disability before age 26 to open a savings account that allows them to save up to $15,000 a year up to a total of $100,000 and not lose their federal disability benefits.”

“Since its passage, 39 states have created ABLE account programs, making it possible for people with disabilities to save for education expenses, begin small businesses, put away money for a car, or purchase a home.”

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said RespectAbility’s President, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. “People with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence just like anyone else.”

RespectAbility also reached out repeatedly to Casey’s opponent, Republican challenger Lou Barletta, but received no response to the questionnaire from him, according to Mizrahi.

The full text of RespectAbility’s questions and Sen. Casey’s responses follows:

6,993 new jobs for people with disabilities in Pennsylvania

Washington, D.C., March 15 – As the economy expands, for the first time in decades people with disabilities are gaining jobs, success and independence. According to new data, 6,993 more people with disabilities in Pennsylvania became employed.  People with disabilities have previously been left out of periods of economic growth, today’s…

Pennsylvania Voter Guide Highlights Disability Issues

Washington, Oct. 17 – As voters get ready to head to the polls in Pennsylvania, RespectAbility has released its Pennsylvania Disability Voter Guide for the upcoming senate and presidential races. Democrat Katie McGinty, who is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, as well as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, has completed the…

Pennsylvania’s McGinty Completes #PwDsVote Senate Campaign Questionnaire

Headshot of Katie McGinty wearing a red suit and white collared top in front of a bookcase
Katie McGinty

Washington, Aug. 30 – RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream, has asked Senate candidates on both sides of the aisle to fill out a questionnaire on disability issues. Democratic Senate hopeful Katie McGinty of Pennsylvania has completed the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire for Senate and Gubernatorial Candidates for people with disabilities.

RespectAbility is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates. The questionnaire is purely for educational purposes.

There are 1,689,123 Pennsylvanians with disabilities, 831,700 of whom are between the ages of 21-64. There are an additional 59,000 people with disabilities between the ages of 16-20, many of whom are looking to enter the workforce. Pennsylvania’s Governor, Tom Wolf, recently issued an extremely positive executive order to expand job opportunities for people with disabilities.

But Pennsylvania ranks just 31st in the percent of people with disabilities employed (34.5 percent). Furthermore, these statistics include those employed in sheltered workshops and/or only working part time. View the rankings of all 50 states and compare.

Pennsylvania Disability Voter Guide: State Committed to Employment First, Early Education

Washington, April 26 – As voters head to the polls in Pennsylvania today, RespectAbility released its Pennsylvania Disability Voter Guide. There are 1,689,123 Pennsylvanians with disabilities, 831,700 of whom are between the ages of 21-64. There are an additional 59,000 people with disabilities between the ages of 16-20. Pennsylvania’s voters are looking…

Building an Equitable Recovery: RespectAbility Advises Montana on Solutions for People with Disabilities

Helena, MT, October 11 – Later this month, Montana’s State Workforce Development Board will meet to discuss the status of workforce practices in Big Sky Country. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion and improve the standing of people with disabilities in the workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, RespectAbility’s new Chairman. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.”

There are more than 63,386 working age (18-64) Montanans living with some form of disability. Before the pandemic, 46.9 percent of the working age population of people with disabilities were employed. It is critical that Montana’s Workforce Development Board listen to the individuals with disabilities and advocates impacted by these unemployment rates. In order to make the workforce more inclusive, and to find practical ways to make the workforce more accessible for the entire population, RespectAbility collects, summarizes, and publicizes ideas on key workforce solutions. To learn more about RespectAbility’s advocacy work, please visit our Policy website.

Building an Equitable Recovery: RespectAbility Advises Kansas on Solutions for People with Disabilities

Topeka, KS, October 8 – This week, the Kansas State Workforce Development Board met to discuss the status of workforce practices in the Sunflower State. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion and improve the standing of people with disabilities in the workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, RespectAbility’s new Chairman. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.”

There are more than 208,624 working age (18-64) Kansans living with some form of disability. Before the pandemic, 44.2 percent of the working age population of people with disabilities were employed. It is critical that Kansas’ Workforce Development Board listen to the individuals with disabilities and advocates impacted by these unemployment rates. In order to make the workforce more inclusive, and to find practical ways to make the workforce more accessible for the entire population, RespectAbility collects, summarizes, and publicizes ideas on key workforce solutions. To learn more about RespectAbility’s advocacy work, please visit our Policy website.

Building an Equitable Recovery: RespectAbility Advises Utah on Solutions for People with Disabilities

Salt Lake City, UT, October 7 – Next week, the Utah State Workforce Development Board meets to discuss the status of workforce practices in the Beehive State. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion and improve the standing of people with disabilities in the workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, RespectAbility’s new Chairman. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.”

There are more than 146,969 working age (18-64) Utahans living with some form of disability. Before the pandemic, 50.2 percent of the working age population of people with disabilities were employed. It is critical that Utah’s Workforce Development Board listen to the individuals with disabilities and advocates impacted by these unemployment rates. In order to make the workforce more inclusive, and to find practical ways to make the workforce more accessible for the entire population, RespectAbility collects, summarizes, and publicizes ideas on key workforce solutions. To learn more about RespectAbility’s advocacy work, please visit our Policy website.

Building an Equitable Recovery: RespectAbility Advises New Mexico on Solutions for People with Disabilities

Albeurquerque, NM, October 6 – This week, the New Mexico State Workforce Development Board met to discuss the status of workforce practices in the Land of Enchantment. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion and improve the standing of people with disabilities in the workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, RespectAbility’s new Chairman. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.”

There are more than 166,609 working age (18-64) New Mexicans living with some form of disability. Before the pandemic, 35.9 percent of the working age population of people with disabilities were employed. It is critical that New Mexico’s Workforce Development Board listen to the individuals with disabilities and advocates impacted by these unemployment rates. In order to make the workforce more inclusive, and to find practical ways to make the workforce more accessible for the entire population, RespectAbility collects, summarizes, and publicizes ideas on key workforce solutions. To learn more about RespectAbility’s advocacy work, please visit our Policy website.

RespectAbility Advocates for Colorado to Close Labor Force Gaps for People with Disabilities

Denver, CO, September 23 – This week, the Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC) met to discuss the status of workforce practices of the Centennial State. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion and improve the standing of people with disabilities in Colorado’s workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, a native Coloradan and RespectAbility’s Policy and Practices Director. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.”

RespectAbility Advocates for Oregon to Close Labor Force Gaps for People with Disabilities

Phoenix, AZ, September 15 – This week, Oregon’s Workforce and Talent Development Board  met to discuss the status of workforce practices of the Beaver State. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion, and improve the standing of people with disabilities in the workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, RespectAbility’s Chairman. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.”

There are more than 303,000 working-age Oregonians living with some form of disability. Before the pandemic, Oregon boasted a 44 percent disability employment rate for its citizens with disabilities. However, thousands of workers with disabilities have been negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic and are looking for new opportunities to develop their skills.

RespectAbility Advocates for Wyoming to Close Labor Force Gaps for People with Disabilities

Cheyanne, WY, September 8 – This week, the Wyoming Workforce Development Council (WWDC) met to discuss the status of workforce practices of the Equality State. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion and improve the standing of people with disabilities in Wyoming’s workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, RespectAbility’s Chairman. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.”

There are more than 39,349 working-age Wyomingites living with some form of disability. Before the pandemic, Wyoming boasted a 52.6 percent disability employment rate for its citizens with disabilities. However, thousands of workers with disabilities have been negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic and are looking for new opportunities to develop their skills. 

RespectAbility Advocates for Arizona to Close Labor Force Gaps for People with Disabilities

Phoenix, AZ, September 8 – This week, the Workforce Arizona Council (WAC) met to discuss the status of workforce practices in the Grand Canyon State. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national nonpartisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion and improve the standing of people with disabilities in Arizona’s workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, RespectAbility’s Chairman. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.”

There are more than 449,000 working-age Arizonans living with some form of disability. Before the pandemic, Arizona boasted a 39.6 percent disability employment rate for its citizens with disabilities. However, thousands of workers with disabilities have been negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic and are looking for new opportunities to develop their skills. 

RespectAbility Advocates for California to Close Labor Force Gaps for People with Disabilities

Sacramento, CA, August 11 – This week, the California Workforce Development Board’s Executive Committee met to discuss the status of workforce practices of the Golden State. In response to this meeting, RespectAbility, a national, non-partisan nonprofit organization, submitted testimony on how to implement best practices, advocate for greater inclusion and improve the standing of people with disabilities in the workforce.

“When it was passed with broad, bipartisan support in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) invested unprecedented resources into efforts to get people with barriers to employment into the labor force,” said Olegario “Ollie” Cantos VII, RespectAbility’s new Chairman. “Now, after the pandemic that has reshaped our economy, it is time to devote significant attention to supporting the economic advancement of students, job-seekers, and entrepreneurs with disabilities.”

RespectAbility Responds to Request for Ideas on Promoting Access for Voters with Disabilities

Washington, D.C., July 19 – Last week, RespectAbility submitted comments to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Request for Information (RFI) regarding voting access for voters with disabilities. 

This RFI comes after President Biden signed the Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting in March of this year. Within the Executive Order, President Biden called on the NIST, along with the Department of Justice, the Election Assistance Commission and other relevant agencies to “analyze barriers to private and independent voting for people with disabilities, including access to voter registration, voting technology, voting by mail, polling locations, and poll worker training.” This is a critical step towards understanding how to improve access for the 38 million eligible voters with disabilities in America who look to cast their ballots in future elections. 

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