Washington, D.C., Oct. 12 – Gov. Jay Inslee has declared October 2018 to be Disability Employment Awareness Month in Washington State.
“Workplaces that welcome the talents of all people, including people with disabilities, are a critical part of our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy,” he said in a statement.
This proclamation follows a year of solid job growth that saw 15,871 people with disabilities getting new jobs in Washington State’s workforce last year.
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.
In total, there are 494,903 working-age Washingtonians 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.
Of that number, 193,792 of them have jobs. That means the Evergreen State has a disability employment rate of 39.2 percent. According to RespectAbility, a national organization that fights stigma and advances opportunity for people with disabilities, Washington State now ranks 20th in the nation.
“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.”
There have been a wide variety of initiatives at the state and local level to empower people with disabilities into the workforce. Gov. Inslee has long been a champion on the issue of jobs for people with disabilities. He has instituted a variety of different policies from promoting state government as a model employer for Washington residents with disabilities to supporting the work of various disability focused state agencies. Locally, the Seattle City Council specifically has outlawed the practice of paying sub-minimum wages to locals with disabilities while elsewhere in the state a SAMSHA Mental Health program supports jobs for people with severe mental health disabilities.
Washington State also is home to other innovative programs for people with disabilities. Project SEARCH is a one-year, school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace. This innovative, business-led model features total workplace immersion, which facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and worksite-based training and support. The goal for each program participant is competitive, integrated employment. SEARCH sites are scattered throughout the state at various employer partners that include Morningside Services, Provail, Microsoft, Starbucks and Alaska Airlines. In Washington State, the SEARCH model is being expanded into new, cutting edge territory. The State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the University of Washington, Seattle Public Schools and PROVAIL are specifically working on expanding the model to have an even bigger impact on neurodiverse youth living on the Autism spectrum.
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, IBM, Starbucks and Walgreens practice inclusive hiring and have had great success. Amazon is also a trailblazer when it comes to disability employment.
“People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to Washington State’s 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.”
Additional research and writing credit go to Laura Haney, Emily Kranking, and Stephanie Farfan.