Washington, D.C. Oct 11 – Gov. John Hickenlooper has declared October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Colorado.
“It is a time to raise public awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many contributions of people with disabilities,” write Hickenlooper in the Proclamation. “People with disabilities are the sum of many parts, including their work experiences. Their disability is an important perspective that they bring to the workforce, but it is not the only one.”
The Gov. went on to add that “Colorado employers that connect with this often untapped community are making a valuable investment. It is an investment that provides a pipeline of skilled workers.”
This proclamation comes after a year of job growth among people with disabilities in Colorado. Last year, 14,846 Coloradans 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 and skills 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 308,342 working-age Coloradans living with some form of disabilities. That 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.
Of that number, 131,658 have jobs. The Centennial State now has a 42.7 percent disability employment rate. According to RespectAbility, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advances opportunities for people with disabilities, Colorado ranks 12th compared to the rest of the country.
Some of Gov. Hickenlooper’s efforts over the past have included celebrating inclusive employers and new coordination efforts with vocation rehabilitation. Last November, Hickenlooper, with the Department of Labor and Employment and its Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, held a gala and an award ceremony for employees with disabilities and employers. This past May, he also signed a bill that will help hire more people with disabilities. SB18-145 will provide disability training to employers, track statistics of the number of employees, make a “Discovery Program” at the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and mentor private businesses for hiring people with disabilities.
Colorado also offers Project SEARCH, a program that provides high school students with disabilities the chance to gain job experience in key career fields such as healthcare, finance, government, retail, and hospitality. You can find SEARCH interns hard at work in Aurora, Boulder and Fort Collins. A successful alumnus of Project SEARCH is a girl named Destinee. She is blind and uses a wheelchair. Project SEARCH placed her as a receptionist at Children’s Hospital at Colorado. The program hired a strategist to think of ways how Destinee can work, using accommodations. Because of the proper accommodations and her hard work, Destinee was hired in a full-time job at the end of her internship.
As Destinee and Project SEARCH show, when people with disabilities are given access to the workforce, both the individual and the employer benefit. Companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, UPS, IBM, Starbucks and Walgreens practice inclusive hiring and have had great success.
“People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to Kansas’ economy,” adds Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility. “People with disabilities 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.”
Hickenlooper’s support, SEARCH’s impact and Destinee’s experiences show that people of disabilities can succeed.
“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 continued, “People with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence just like anyone else.”