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Outgoing California Gov. Brown Reflects on the Success of People with Disabilities

Gov. Jerry Brown headshot

Gov. Jerry Brown

Washington, D.C., Oct. 30 – Gov. Jerry Brown has proclaimed October 2018 to be Disability Employment Awareness Month in California.

“For thirty years, the month of October as a time to acknowledge the positive role that people with disabilities have in our workforce and their contributions to the well-being of our state,” writes Brown in the proclamation. “There are an estimated 4 million people in California with a wide spectrum of disabilities. By supporting the employment of these talented workers, organizations are not only contributing to employees’ independence and equality, but also to the financial strength of their company.”

“I call on all Californians to join me in recognizing the importance of their role in our shared future,” he added.

This proclamation followed a tremendous year of job growth for Californians with disabilities. Last year, across the Golden State, 19,398 people with disabilities got new jobs.

Meanwhile, President Trump issued a statement saying that his Administration “reaffirms its support for all the employers who hire Americans with disabilities, providing opportunities for success. It is important that all our Nation’s job seekers and creators are both empowered and motivated to partake in our booming economy and apply their unique talents to the growing workforce.”

He added, “We recognize the achievements of Americans with disabilities whose contributions in the workforce help ensure the strength of our Nation. We also renew our commitment to creating an environment of opportunity for all Americans and educating people about disability employment issues.”

An annual celebration, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is dedicated to raising awareness about disability employment issues and celebrating the incredible contributions of people with disabilities.

There are 2,023,714 working-age Californians living with disabilities. 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.

Out of that number, 701,791 have jobs. Despite the Golden State’s booming economy, including the lowest unemployment rate in more than 40 years, only 34.8 percent of Californians with disabilities have jobs.

The economic exclusion of people with disabilities also 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, just 2.1 percent of characters on television have a disability. And according to RespectAbility, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities, California ranks 34th compared to the rest of the country.

“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Steve Bartlett, the chair of RespectAbility. Bartlett, a former U.S. Congressman, the former Mayor of Dallas and a principal author of the Americans with Disabilities Act went on to say, “People with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence just like anyone else.”

California is home to a range of best practices and programs to empower 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.”

When people with disabilities are given access to the workforce, both the individual and the employers benefit. Companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, Walgreens, UPS, IBM and Starbucks practice inclusive hiring and have had great success. As an employer, it is important to consider these talents and advantages when hiring workers.

“People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to Hawaii’s economy,” adds Mizrahi. “They can work in hospitals and hotels, or apply their talents to develop computer software and website design. There are no limits to what they can do.”

Additional research and writing credit go to Stephanie Farfan, Laura Haney and Emily Kranking.

Meet the Author

Heidi Wangelin

Heidi Wangelin is a University of Washington graduate with two bachelor’s degrees in Culture, Literature and Arts as well as Disability Studies. She joined RespectAbility to further her learning about public policy regarding people with disabilities.

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