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BREAKING NEWS: Congress to Vote on Jobs for People with Disabilities

Washington, DC. At a time when 70% of working age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workforce and more than 9 million working age Americans with disabilities are living on government benefits, Congress will vote on bi-partisan, bicameral legislation to increase opportunities for people with disabilities.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) (H.R. 803) and (S. 1356) will reauthorize the WIOA and add to its purpose in the following key ways:

  • To maximize opportunities for individuals with disabilities, including individuals with significant disabilities, for competitive integrated employment,
  • To increase employment opportunities and employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities, including through encouraging meaningful input by employers and vocational rehabilitation service providers on successful and prospective employment and placement strategies, and
  • To ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that youth with disabilities and students with disabilities who are transitioning from receipt of special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1400 et. seq.) and receipt of services under section 504 of this Act are either continuing their education or employed in competitive integrated employment independently.

“Polls show that the majority of people with disabilities want to work. Hiring people with disabilities can also make companies more profitable. Nationally Walgreens, hospitals, AMC theaters, EY and others have found this to be true as employees with disabilities, when aligned with their talents and interests, are productive, loyal and successful,” commented Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbilityUSA, a non profit working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream. Recently the organization released a major report on jobs for people with disabilities. “This legislation recognizes that hiring Americans with disabilities can be win-win-win for people with disabilities, employers and taxpayers alike. The U.S. spends billions each year on benefits to people who, in most cases, would rather have a hand up than a hand out. They need to be included in employment because of the talents they bring to the table. Their work and commitments to success can be a part of how the U.S. can compete successfully.”

If passed, this bill will build on the work done over the past two years by the National Governors Association (NGA) and individual governors who are shifting dramatically to “employment first” policies. The NGA has put employment of people with disabilities at the center of their work with both “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities” as well as the new focus, “America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs” on workforce development.

According to a high level source involved in the process on Capitol Hill, “The changes WIOA makes to the Vocational Rehabilitation Act are a significant step towards bringing the needs of the disability community into the 21st century.” When asked if WIOA reauthorization will have a section to encourage employers to hire people with disabilities by changing their perceptions of the abilities of people with disabilities/the benefits of having people with disabilities (PwDs) in their workforce, the source responded that “The outreach efforts and programs are not specifically called out in our bill.  Rather, they would all be allowable uses within the funding allocated to the states.  We have given states as much flexibility as possible to address their local needs regarding VR.”

The Senate is expected to take this bill up either today or tomorrow, and passage could be prior to the end of the week. The new legislation will streamline programs and make them more accountable to people with disabilities and taxpayers alike. Indeed, as has been pointed out repeatedly by RespectAbilityUSA, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) identified 45 programs that supported employment for people with disabilities in fiscal year 2010, reflecting a fragmented system of services. The programs were administered by nine federal agencies and overseen by even more congressional committees. All programs overlapped with at least one other program in that they provided one or more similar employment service to a similar population—people with disabilities. However, there was little coordination or collaboration and only 10 of the 45 programs reported that an evaluation had been conducted the last 5 years before the GAO report was issued in 2012. Just one of the 45 programs (Job Corps) reported conducting an impact study—a study that would most clearly show whether the program (and not other factors) was responsible for improved employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

Said Mizrahi, “We don’t see much bipartisan agreement in Washington these days, but thanks to U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), as well as to Congresspeople John Kline (R-MN), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), George Miller (D-CA) and others, this is completely bipartisan.” The bill was previously known in the House as the SKILLS Act and is supported by a broad group of leaders and organizations. According to the U.S. Census 56 million Americans have disabilities and people with disabilities (PwDs) represent 18.6% of our population.

To find out how your Representatives and Senators will vote on this important legislation, call the Congressional switchboard at 1-202-224-3121 or 202-225-3121 and ask to speak with their office.

For more information contact: Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi at JenniferM@RespectAbilityUSA.org

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Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum
Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the communications director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities, and managing editor of The RespectAbility Report, a publication at the intersection of disability and politics. Previously she was a digital researcher with the NBC News political unit. As an individual with an acquired invisible disability - Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy - she writes about the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. Appelbaum currently oversees RespectAbility’s outreach to Hollywood to promote positive, accurate, diverse and inclusive media portrayals on TV and in film. To reach her, email LaurenA@RespectAbility.org.

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