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Virginia’s Gov. Northam shares plans to further employment for people with disabilities

A worker with a disability standing outside Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe wearing a hat and shirt with the restaurant's logo on it Washington, D.C., Oct. 17 – Taziki’s Mediterranean Café has teamed up with Magellan Complete Care to create Taziki’s HOPE program. The HOPE program teaches adults with disabilities transferable business skills while working at the Café or growing herbs.

Taziki’s HOPE program is one such example of how this state is improving its employment rate for people with disabilities.

According to the Institute on Disability, 204,103 working-age Virginians with disabilities are employed, putting the state’s disability employment rate at 40.8 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. Ralph Northam has declared October as Disability Employment Awareness Month to help advance opportunities.

“The code of Virginia was amended to establish a goal for Executive branch agencies to increase by five percent the level of employment of individuals with disabilities,” Gov. Northam stated.

Virginia is making goals toward furthering opportunities for people with disabilities. A five percent increase in four years can seem small but Virginia grew its employment from 37.4 percent to 40.8 percent in just two years.

This proclamation follows a solid year of job growth among people with disabilities living in the Old Dominion State. 10,471 people with disabilities entered Virginia’s workforce last year. This was a major step forward and part of a nationwide 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, Virginia ranks 18th in the nation on jobs for people with disabilities.

Virginia has found greater success by doing the right things and investing in cost-effective solutions. These 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 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 around that individual.

Virginia can further capitalize on past successes by following the example of states that show constant improvement such as Florida and Ohio. Both states 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, Virginia 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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