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Gov. Tim Walz Argues that Employees with Disabilities “Benefit Minnesota’s Economy”

Governor Tim Walz smiling in front of an American flag and the Minnesota state flagSaint Paul, Minnesota, Oct. 31 – This month, the Twin Cities Arby’s was named an Outstanding Disability Employer by the Minnesota Organization for Habilitation and Rehabilitation. This recognition happened as part of a state-wide celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Ben Kopnick, coordinator of the grant program that supported Arby’s to hire more employees with disabilities spoke about “working to integrate them in their workplace culture” and the employees with disabilities learning to “push themselves and grow their skillsets.”

Arby’s is one such example of how the North Star State is working to continue expanding job opportunities for Minnesotans with disabilities.

In a statement released earlier this month, Gov. Tim Walz proclaimed October to be “Employers Hiring People with Disabilities Month.”

“Individuals with disabilities are proving themselves as valuable and productive contributors and taxpayers in the workforce,” Walz said in his statement. He also discussed how employing more Minnesotans with disabilities would “benefit Minnesota’s economy and its competitiveness in the global marketplace.” Lastly, he spoke about how the entire state government “is committed to providing Minnesotans with disabilities with a continuum of work options that best meet individual needs and choices in a person-centered manner.”

This proclamation follows a solid year of job growth among people with disabilities living in Minnesota. In 2018, 145,697 Minnesotans with disabilities had jobs putting that state’s disability employment rate at 47.8 percent. According to the Institute on Disability, that is well above the national disability employment rate of only 37 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.

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, found that Minnesota ranks 5th in the nation on jobs for people with disabilities.

Minnesota’s tremendous outcomes are no accident. 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.

Minnesota 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, Iowa 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

Otilia Lampman

Otilia Lampman applied to the National Leadership Program because she believes in equality for all people. She also wants to have more knowledge about not only her own disability experience, but also about other’s disabilities.

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