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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam Makes New Commitments on Jobs for People with Disabilities

Ralph Northam headshot

Gov. Ralph Northam

Richmond, Virginia, Oct 4 – Gov. Ralph Northam has declared October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Virginia. Northam proudly wrote, “Virginians with disabilities, including veterans, have the ability and desire to seek employment and to develop the skills they need to join Virginia’s economy.”

Northam went on to add, “Employers can enhance their businesses and workplaces by creating career opportunities and hiring qualified individuals with disabilities.”

This proclamation follows an outstanding year of job growth among people with disabilities living in the Old Dominion. 14,479 people with disabilities entered Virginia’s workforce last year.

Meanwhile, President Trump also 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 is dedicated to raising awareness about disability employment issues and celebrating the incredible contributions of people with disabilities. In total, there are 496,928 working-age people with disabilities living in Virginia. 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.

Of that number, 193,632 have jobs. That means the Commonwealth has a 39 percent disability employment rate. According to RespectAbility, a national disability organization, Virginia ranks 23rd out of 50 in terms of jobs for people with disabilities.

“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.”

When people with disabilities are given access to the workforce, both the individual and the employers benefit. People with disabilities can bring new talents and ways of thinking to the table. In addition, they are more likely to be loyal to a company once they are hired. Companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, UPS, IBMStarbucks and Walgreens practice inclusive hiring and have had great success. As an employer, it is important to consider these talents and advantages when hiring workers.   

“Virginians with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to the workplace,” 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.”

A great example of the new opportunities open to Virginias with disabilities is an on-going program called “Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities (CPID)” CPID is part of a broad effort to train “young adults, including those with disabilities, for promising careers in in-demand industries including advanced manufacturing and technology.”

Likewise, Virginia is home to other programs dedicated to best practices. One great example comes from Project SEARCH, a transformational school to work transition program for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In diverse places such as Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg, Carilion Clinic New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg, VCU Medical Center and Prince William Hospital in Manassas, youth with disabilities have the chance to learn new skills and enter the workforce.

Every October, Virginia Tech University hosts a morning of lectures on a certain theme of disability.  This year, it is called Animals and the Americans with Disabilities Act and it will demonstrate the talents and flexibility of service animals. It will be held on Oct. 19 at Alphin-Stuart Livestock Arena, starting at 10:00 a.m. Virginia State University also will have a morning dedicated to networking on Oct. 23 at the Multipurpose Center that begins at 10:30 a.m.

Meet the Author

Philip Pauli
Philip Pauli

Philip Kahn-Pauli is the Policy and Practices Director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. He works with state leaders to develop solutions for youth with disabilities, support job seekers with disabilities and open pathways into the workforce. To reach him, email philipp@respectability.org.

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