Long Beach, California, Feb. 22 – Californians with disabilities are dramatically less likely to find employment than the general population or even their counterparts in most other states. The newly released Disabilities Statistics Compendium, published by the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, reveals a 40 percentage-point gap in job prospects between those with disabilities and those without. Despite the Golden State’s booming economy, including the lowest unemployment rate in more than 40 years, only 701,791 – or 34.8 percent – of Californians with disabilities have jobs. The figure for people without disabilities is 74.4 percent.
According to RespectAbility, a national organization that fights stigma and advances opportunity for people with disabilities, California ranks 34th on jobs for people with disabilities. California is far lower than states with smaller economies including Minnesota and the Dakotas. Such statistics are disappointing since California’s unemployment rate in December was 4.3 percent, lower than at any time since 1976.
The economic exclusion of people with disabilities is reflected in the stories that Hollywood tells. According to a recent report by The Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC, only 2.7 percent of all speaking or named characters in film were shown to have a disability in 2016. According to GLAAD’s reporting, less then two percent of characters on television have a disability.
“The fact is, employment rates only tell part of the story,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, Policy and Practices Director at RespectAbility, “Educational attainment is critical to the success of youth with disabilities because the jobs of the future require technical education and skill training.”
California had an overall graduation rate of 83 percent in 2016, but only 66 percent of the students with disabilities graduated. That puts Californians students with disabilities behind other minority students who graduate high school at far higher rates.
The figures in the study are at odds with multiple commitments made by Californian political leaders to improve outcomes and offer support to people with disabilities. A 2013 state law made California an “Employment First” state and prioritizes job opportunities for people with disabilities.
Project SEARCH is a perfect example of the types of opportunities now open to more and more youth with disabilities in California. SEARCH is a unique, employer-driven transition program that prepares students with disabilities for employment success. In California, new partnerships between the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nonprofit Best Buddies and Kaiser Permanente are having transformative impacts on the lives of young people with disabilities. Nationally and locally, more than 70 percent of Project SEARCH interns now have jobs.
California has a unique network of Regional Centers, originally established in the 1960s, which provide legally mandated support and services. The state also adopted a Competitive Integrated Employment Blueprint just last year to promote competitive job opportunities for all.
“Clearly California leaders understand the steps needed to increase employment opportunities for those with disabilities,” added Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility. “But what is also evident from the data is that more needs to be done.
Many iconic figures are people with disabilities – including Richard Branson, Whoopi Goldberg, Daymond John and Charles Schwab, all dyslexic. Steven Hawking uses a mobility device. Arthur Young, co-founder of Ernst & Young, was deaf and had limited vision.
“More employers must be educated about the skill sets that people with disabilities bring to the workplace,” said Mizrahi. Top companies including JP Morgan Chase, Pepsi, UPS, Starbucks and Walgreens are terrific examples of how people with disabilities are both successful employees and improve the bottom line.
While big challenges exist, things are beginning to change for people with disabilities locally and in Hollywood. Locally, in close collaboration with a range of stakeholders, RespectAbility is coordinating a new campaign to expand job opportunities for people with disabilities in Long Beach, California. This included creating and releasing a free online guide of services for people with disabilities in Long Beach. In Hollywood, RespectAbility advocates for shows that features actors with disabilities such as Born This Way and Speechless, which offer role models with high expectations for inclusion and success.
Nationally, more than 330,000 Americans with disabilities entered the competitive workforce last year.
“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” Mizrahi added. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”