Washington, D.C., Oct. 19 – The Lex Frieden Employment Award, which is given to multiple businesses committed to empowering people with disabilities in the workforce, recently honored the H-E-B Corporate offices of San Antonio and a Chick-fil-A store in Allen City. These businesses are examples of how the Lone Star State is working to improve its employment rate for people with disabilities.
According to the Institute on Disability, 647,977 working-age Texans with disabilities have jobs, putting the state’s disability employment rate at 39.9 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. Greg Abbott has declared October as Disability Employment Awareness Month to help raise this percentage.
“Not only must we enhance Texas’ workforce system so it better serves Texans with disabilities,” Gov. Abbott stated. “We must engage in disability employment awareness to ensure that all Texans have an equal opportunity to contribute to the workforce that is the foundation of Texas’ continue success and prosperity.”
Gov. Abbott ended his proclamation with a personal note. “As a Texan with a disability myself, I encourage all Texans to learn more about disability employment and join me in commemorating the many achievements of Texans with disabilities,” he wrote.
The governor is a prime example of how far people with disabilities can go when given the same opportunities as everyone else. The promotion of disability employment awareness is important to creating workplace equality.
This proclamation follows a solid year of job growth among people with disabilities living in Texas. 3,796 people with disabilities entered the Lone Star State’s workforce last year. While this is a smaller number than previous years, it is still 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 fight stigmas and advance opportunities so that people with disabilities can participate fully in society, Texas ranks 23rd 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 tremendous outcomes are no accident. These 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 toward 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 around that individual.
Texas 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, Texas can 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.