In December 2022, hundreds of state legislators from different states gathered at the Council of State Governments (CSG) National Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. They shared legislative priorities, including workforce shortages, the aging workforce, interstate compacts, and Western state emergency response.
At each discussion, I had the opportunity to educate these leaders on the disability dimensions of their most pressing issues, while advocating for solutions incorporating the needs and talents of people with disabilities. The five days of meetings were an opportunity to educate, learn from, and build relationships with the policymakers that I will engage with all over the country this year.
Lawmakers were clearly deeply concerned by the ongoing labor shortage. Here I was able to present people with disabilities as a solution to this pressing need–we are disproportionately underemployed, and yet many of us can work with or without cost-effective reasonable accommodation. People with disabilities are a key source of talent for the diverse post-pandemic workforce.
The increase in telework is of particular interest to many lawmakers. This will be helpful to prospective workers that were unable to commute in the past or are in locations with limited employment opportunities. I emphasized that true opportunity for workers with disabilities has to include ready and affordable broadband and the potential to upskill to enter new or more advanced careers.
Another significant discussion centered around preparation for the Baby Boomer retirements and the ways in which disability policy plays into this issue. Since more than 30 percent of Americans over age 65 and 50 percent of those over 75 have a disability, it is an inevitability that workers will be affected as they age out of the labor force. This “Silver Tsunami” will also provide opportunities for workforce realignment and hiring as demand increases in the personal care and health industries. Multiple proven models have emphasized that a growing home health and personal care workforce is an excellent place for motivated workers with disabilities to find employment.
In addition to the topics discussed above, I also engaged in conversations around improving policies in education, pre-employment services, disaster and emergency response, and access to government.
As State Policy Manager for RespectAbility, this year I will be nurturing the policy ideas and relationships developed during the CSG conference to grow a better future for people with disabilities. With all 50 states opening their legislative sessions this winter, I look forward to carrying on our efforts and fighting for better outcomes all over the map.