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16,794 New Jobs for African Americans with Disabilities

However, only 29.7 percent of working-age African Americans with disabilities are employed

Washington, D.C. Feb. 25 – As we celebrate Black History Month, which takes place every February, RespectAbility recognizes the contributions made and the important presence of African Americans to the United States. It is important to note this includes more than 5.4 million African Americans living with a disability in the U.S., 3.2 million of whom are working-age African Americans with disabilities. Therefore, we would like to reflect on the realities and challenges that continue to shape the lives of African Americans with disabilities.

New statistics released by the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire show that the employment rate for African Americans with disabilities has continued to grow even as other part of the disability community have lost economic ground. In 2018, the disability employment rate of working-age African Americans with disabilities increased to 29.7 percent compared to 28.6 percent in 2017. While that is an improvement, it lags far behind the 74.4 percent of working-age African Americans without disabilities who have jobs. Indeed, national statistics show that only 37.6 percent of working age people with disabilities overall have jobs compared to 77.8 percent of working-age people without disabilities. Fully 32.3 percent of African Americans with disabilities live in poverty, compared to just 22.4 percent of African Americans without disabilities.

While African Americans with disabilities continue to face significant barriers to employment, nationwide they are making some progress. Comparing the 2018 data to the 2017 data reveals that nationally, 16,749 African Americans with disabilities gained jobs. Across the entire disability community, there were only 29,000 new jobs in 2018. Furthermore, in the year prior, 7500 African Americans with disabilities lost jobs while people with disabilities of other racial backgrounds gained jobs, making the increase in 2018 particularly noteworthy.

“As a black woman with a disability, ableism, sexism and racism are nothing new to my daily experiences,” said Tatiana Lee, a Hollywood Inclusionist with RespectAbility. Lee is a black woman who uses a wheelchair as a result of Spina Bifida “This increase in jobs can be attributed to our ability to innovate as a result of being doubly marginalized. A lot of people assume, because of a lack of access, that we are not educated and therefore cannot be an asset. But African Americans with disabilities often become even greater assets.”

For many of the 1,113,944 black students (K-12) with disabilities in America today, the deck is stacked against them as they are in dramatically under-resourced schools. Thus, nonvisible disabilities such as ADHD and dyslexia frequently are not diagnosed and students do not get the supports they need to achieve. Frustrated, they can act out and become suspended or drop out. African-American students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by suspension in schools, with more than one-in-four boys of color with disabilities — and nearly one-in-five girls of color with disabilities — receiving an out-of-school suspension.

Statistics show that unmet disability needs are a critical factor for many justice-involved youths. Researchers have found that one-third of incarcerated youth need special education services and that in some cases, up to 70 percent of justice-involved youth disclosed a learning disability. As documented by the National Council on Disability, fully “85 percent of youth in juvenile detention facilities have disabilities that make them eligible for special education services, yet only 37 percent receive these services while in school.” Youth of color, including English Language Learners (ELLs), are disproportionality trapped in the school-to-prison pipeline.

Overall, only 65 percent of students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 84 percent of students without disabilities. However, only 57 percent of black students with disabilities graduate high school compared to 74.6 percent of black students without disabilities.

Some celebrities and business leaders are using their voice to share their stories, educating people about both visible and nonvisible disabilities. They are defying the statistics and have remained highly successful with their disabilities. These role models make a big difference in setting high expectations for youth with disabilities. People with disabilities of all backgrounds can be amongst the highest achievers on earth. Harriet Tubman had Epilepsy, actress Halle Berry lives with diabetes, business leader and Shark Tank superstar Daymond John is dyslexic and Stevie Wonder is blind. Each of them is a positive role model for success. They are perfect candidates for RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which is shining a light on individuals with disabilities who are succeeding in their chosen careers. View more:

Our nation’s economy is strongest when it is inclusive of the value that diverse talent brings to the workplace. These celebrities are making a difference in how audiences perceive disability. Moreover, companies including Bank of America, Coca-Cola, E.Y., J.P. MorganChase and others exemplify these values and have specific programs to hire, cultivate and promote people with disabilities. What these businesses have found is that employees with disabilities are loyal, successful and help them make more money.

Media Contact:
Lauren Appelbaum, Vice President, Communications
LaurenA@RespectAbility.org  |  202-517-6272

Meet the Author

Philip Pauli
Philip Pauli

Philip Kahn-Pauli is the Policy and Practices Director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. He works with state leaders to develop solutions for youth with disabilities, support job seekers with disabilities and open pathways into the workforce. To reach him, email philipp@respectability.org.

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