Little Rock, Arkansas, Oct. 23 – At the beginning of this month, state leaders gathered at the Capitol in Little Rock to celebrate the beginning of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).
“We are excited to see so many new avenues opening up in Arkansas and across the nation for individuals with disabilities to work with so many supportive employers,” said Alan McClain, commissioner for Arkansas Rehabilitation Services. “Every day, we see the talent that individuals with disabilities add to our workforce, but this is the time of year when we want to spotlight their value to our state and our economy.”
According to the Institute on Disability, in 2018, 87,920 Arkansans with disabilities had jobs, putting the state’s disability employment rate at 30.8 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. Asa Hutchinson has declared October as Disability Employment Awareness Month to help fight stigmas and advance opportunities for Arkansans with disabilities. “People with disabilities offer a wide range of expertise and play an integral role in our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy,” he wrote in his proclamation. “I encourage my fellow citizens to realize the contributions individuals with disabilities add to our workplaces and communities.”
This proclamation follows a solid year of job growth among people with disabilities living in the Natural State. 2,473 Arkansans with disabilities entered the workforce last year. While this is a small number, it is a step forward and part of a continued 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 ensure that people with disabilities can participate fully in society, Arkansas ranks 46th in the nation on jobs for people with disabilities.
South Dakota, North Dakota and Utah have disability employment rates nearly twice that of Arkansas. These differences 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.
Arkansas can further capitalize on past successes by following the example of states that show constant improvement such as Florida and Ohio. Both can attribute a portion of their 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, Arkansas 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.