Juneau, AK, October 3 – The “State of Alaska celebrates and recognizes the talents and contributions of individuals with disabilities in the workplace and commits to promoting awareness about disability employment opportunities,” said Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy in a proclamation marking the first week of October as Alaska Employ People with Disabilities Week.
Gov. Dunleavy’s proclamation went on to add that advancing opportunities for people with disabilities “is a critical part of our efforts to build an inclusive community and strong economy throughout Alaska.”
This is an important public commitment for the more than 44,000 working-age people living with disabilities in Alaska. In the economic expansion prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Alaska had a 38.8 percent disability employment rate. By contrast, people without disabilities had an employment rate of 74.2 percent. That means that there is a 35.3 percentage point gap in labor force participation rates between people with and without disabilities.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), an annual celebration dedicated to raising awareness about disability employment issues and celebrating the incredible contributions of people with disabilities. The theme for NDEAM 2021 is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” This theme reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“NDEAM’s theme calls attention to a key principle: Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Hon. Steve Bartlett, the Chair Emeritus of RespectAbility, a national disability inclusion organization. “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else. Celebrating NDEAM in Alaska is just the first step in getting more people with disabilities into the workforce so they can earn an income and be included in all aspects of society.”
Dunleavey’s proclamation also called attention to several key accomplishments on disability employment issues from the recent past. These include the Alaska Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act which was passed into law in 2014. The ABLE Act specifically “empowers Alaskans with disabilities to pursue employment earnings and savings, while allowing them to still qualify for vital public benefits.” Likewise, Alaska has long been an Employment First state, requiring agencies to focus resources to “prioritize competitive and assimilated employment for all Alaskans” with disabilities.
The success or failure of getting more people with disabilities integrated into the workforce impacts thousands of communities and millions of families nationwide. According to the Census Bureau, there are more than 56 million Americans living with a disability. Disabilities include visible conditions such as spinal cord injuries, visual impairments or hearing loss and nonvisible disabilities such as learning disabilities, mental health or Autism.
Brand name companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, Ernst & Young, IBM, Walgreens, Starbucks, CVS and Microsoft know that workers with disabilities improve the bottom line and add value to the workforce. “People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to the workplace,” added RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. “There are no limits to what they can do when given the chance.”
Find more information about NDEAM, including proclamations from other Governors and upcoming events, at RespectAbility’s NDEAM website.