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Florida Gov. DeSantis commits to furthering opportunities for Florida’s Disabled Workforce

Cosmos Ristorante & Pizzeria employee Shawn Denton clocks in before the start of his work shift, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Naples.

Photo Credit: Jon Austria/Naples Daily News

Washington, D.C., Oct. 16 – Through the StarAbility Foundation, Shawn Denton has become a model employee at Cosmos Pizza Naples. StarAbilty Foundation offers the program trailblazer academy, which helps people with disabilities find employment through vocational rehabilitation and employment readiness.

However, The StarAbility Foundation is an exception, as far too many Floridians with disabilities are out of work. This month is the perfect time to examine why.

According to the Institute on Disability, 428,638 working-age Floridians with disabilities are employed, putting the state’s disability employment rate at 34.1 percent. 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.

As such, Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared October as Disability Employment Awareness Month to help raise this percentage.

“It is imperative that we encourage those with unique abilities to use their skills in education, in places of employment and throughout their communities in order to continue our commitment of equal opportunities for all,” Gov. DeSantis stated.

After high school, programs are necessary for incorporating people with disabilities in the workforce of any state. Gov. DeSantis commemorates the achievement of programs at a local level; local level programs help to increase the employment rate statewide.

This proclamation follows a solid year of job growth among people with disabilities living in the Sunshine State. 23,953 people with disabilities entered Florida’s workforce last year. This is a major step forward and part of a national wide trend of new jobs for the one in five Americans living with a disclosed disability.

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. According to RespectAbility, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works to fight stigmas and advance opportunities so that people with disabilities can participate fully in society, Florida ranks 39th in the nation on jobs for people with disabilities.

South Dakota, North Dakota and Utah have the highest disability employment rates of any state. These outcomes are the results of deliberate strategies implemented by leaders in the community, in government and in the school system. Employment First is one such strategy. It is a strategy where critical social programs are oriented towards ensuring that getting a job is the top priority for individuals with disabilities. That goal is reinforced with high expectations among the teachers, coaches and parents.

Florida can further capitalize on past successes by following the example of states that show constant improvement such as Ohio. The Buckeye State can attribute a portion of its growth in disability employment to Project SEARCH, a program for young adults with disabilities to improve their skills, learn from job coaches and ultimately find a job. Data shows that 70 percent of SEARCH interns who complete their training obtain competitive employment. By expanding such critical programs, Florida can greatly increase the number of people with disabilities entering the workforce.

Companies that embrace employees with disabilities clearly see the results in their bottom line. According to Accenture, disability-inclusive companies have higher productivity levels and lower staff turnover rates, are twice as likely to outperform their peers in shareholder returns and create larger returns on investment.

The fact is that disability is part of the human experience. It is nothing to fear because all of us will be affected by it eventually, whether by accident, aging or illness. Opening more job opportunities to people with disabilities will mean stronger communities and a better economy for all. Achieving that requires all of us working together because people with disabilities are the right talent, right now.

Meet the Author

Gloria Medina

Gloria Medina wants to help all communities living in the margins of society, as she understands what it feels like to not get the same opportunities as others and to have stigma attached to a part of one’s identity.

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