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RespectAbility’s Entrepreneurship Project Promises Major Advancements in a Critical Piece of the Disability Employment Puzzle

Black and white photo of former RespectAbility fellows looking at a document together around a table. Text: Entrepreneurship ProjectOver the course of the last decade, self-employment and entrepreneurship have become increasingly recognized as an employment strategy for people with disabilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with disabilities are self-employed at a rate nearly twice that of their non-disabled peers. As of the 2019 American Community Survey, more than 700,000 workers with disabilities were self-employed.

Posited reasons for these facts range from a lack of discrimination when you work for yourself to the ability to accommodate flexible work schedules. Regardless of the reason, entrepreneurship is a key element to successful vocational rehabilitation (VR). RespectAbility has launched a three-part project to help VR and others equip entrepreneurial jobseekers with disabilities for success: [continue reading…]

Major Advancement In The Financial Security Of Individuals With Acquired Disabilities Signed Into Law

background is a collection of Hundred dollar bills in black and white. Text: ABLE AccountsIn the closing days of the last congress, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 was passed. The legislation incorporated many different priorities, but one major one for the disability community is the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, which adjusts the eligible age of disability onset to open an ABLE (A Better Life Experience) account from 26 to 46 starting on January 1, 2026. This represents a major victory on legislation that was moving through the Senate but had stalled in committee in the House, and it will enable more people with acquired disabilities to achieve and maintain financial independence.

If you already know about ABLE accounts and just haven’t gotten around to opening one, stop reading right now and visit the website of the ABLE national resource center, which will have a link directly to your state. If you do not already know, ABLE accounts are savings accounts designed specifically for people with disabilities and their families to aid them in financial independence. Enacted in December 2014, the ABLE Act provides tax-advantaged savings accounts for people with disabilities and their families. Through ABLE, a person with a disability can save up to a significant sum of money per year without compromising their benefits for qualified disability expenses such as educational costs, housing expenditures, and payment for transportation. This applies to any type of disability. [continue reading…]

Building Allies and Providing Solutions: Educating and Engaging Legislators Throughout the Country in our 2023 Agenda

Hawaii Lt. Governor Sylvia Luke speaking at the 2022 CSG National Conference in Hawaii in front of American flags and the conference's logo on the screen behind her

Hawaii Lt. Governor Sylvia Luke speaking at the 2022 CSG National Conference

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. [continue reading…]

Remembering Lois Curtis, A Hero of Independent Living

Lois Curtis smilingLois Curtis had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and developmental disabilities as a young woman, and by her late 20s she had spent more than half her life in state institutions. Isolated and angry, she chain-smoked to pass the time and prayed to God at night, asking to be rescued from the Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta.

Ms. Curtis’s prayer for freedom made its way to the Supreme Court. In Olmstead v. L.C. (1999) – Ms. Curtis was the “L.C.”— the Court decided “unjustified isolation” of a person with a disability is a form of discrimination under Title II of the ADA. The justices delivered a landmark ruling that gave people with disabilities the right to receive care and support services in their own homes and communities, not just in state institutions. This offered a legal framework for people with disabilities to secure the right to live, work, and study in their own communities, galvanizing the disability community by legally empowering the independent living movement. [continue reading…]

Disability Pride On The Rise Among Candidates for Public Office

Having a disability in government has typically meant concealing, masking, or otherwise hiding any difference of mind or body on the campaign trail and in office. Franklin Delano Roosevelt remained paralyzed from the waist down after a bout of polio. Roosevelt used a wheelchair and leg braces for mobility, which he tried to conceal in public.

Headshots of John Fetterman and Ollie Cantos, two candidates with disabilities who won in the 2022 electionsWhile government roles have been filled by people with disabilities before and after Roosevelt, people running for public office have rarely felt comfortable revealing their disability status. Thankfully, there are signs that this is starting to change. Only days prior to the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, John Fetterman had a stroke. Fetterman proceeded to win the Senate seat despite the public nature of his disability. He embraced the use of accommodations and used closed-captioning technology, which translates audio into text on a screen in real time. Additionally, the Chairman of RespectAbility’s Board of Directors and Los Angeles City Council District 4-elect, Ollie Cantos VII, described himself as “blind since birth” on his campaign website. [continue reading…]

In 2022, Barriers Remain for People with Disabilities in the Midterm Elections

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects voting rights for people with disabilities, but 32 years after its passage, voters with disabilities still experienced barriers to participating in the polls. In this election cycle, some particularly significant issues included a lack of poll worker training on using ADA-compliant voting equipment and poll workers not properly addressing challenges that prevent people with disabilities from voting. [continue reading…]

The State of Federal Disability Hiring and Retention Still Lagging

On November 28, the Congressional Research Service published a paper entitled “Federal Hiring of Persons with Disabilities.” The findings of the paper are neither surprising nor controversial, and state, in part:

“Despite efforts to increase recruitment and hiring of persons with disabilities, retention of employees with disabilities is significantly lower than that of employees without disabilities. According to OPM, employees with disabilities leave the federal government at about three times the rate of those without disabilities. OPM outlines a number of strategies to improve retention of employees with disabilities, such as providing workplace flexibilities and reasonable accommodations.”

In short, the Federal Government can successfully hire people with disabilities, but is lagging in retention, especially because of challenges in the process of flexible work and reasonable accommodation. [continue reading…]

Enabling Independence to Work

Logos for United Spinal Association and RespectAbility. Text: Enabling Independence to WorkUnited Spinal Association and RespectAbility have embarked upon a major joint initiative to fundamentally change personal care for working people with disabilities by implementing market-driven solutions. The Enabling Independence to Work (EIW) program has designed a Medicaid buy-in model that will allow individuals with disabilities with personal care and complex medical needs to join the workforce. This program will be politically popular and economically feasible, as it will require substantial financial participation and still reward increased compensation. [continue reading…]

A Reflection on Being Singled Out While Voting

Erica Mones headshot

Erica Mones

As a Disabled woman, I dread voting. Polling places are supposed to be accessible to Disabled voters, but in my experience, they seldom are. For one, I do not have the fine motor skills to fill in the bubbles. As a result, I need assistance to fill out the ballot.

I’ve heard horror stories about Disabled voters relying on election workers–workers who loudly repeat the voters’ choice or workers who try to talk the voter into making a different choice. As a result, I ask my mom to help me. She respects my voting choices, even when we are not voting for the same candidate. The election workers often let me do this with no problem.

However, this year when I voted in the primary election, one of the workers loudly shouted, “No cheating!” as my mom helped me fill out the ballot. I felt like a child singled out by a teacher for utilizing the reasonable accommodations outlined in my IEP. I was humiliated and angry. I was exercising my right to vote like anyone else; I just have to go about it a bit differently. I tried to laugh it off, but the worker continued to make a scene, filling the previously peaceful room with his boisterous voice. He repeated himself, even though I heard him perfectly the first time. I was reminded at that moment that I was different – that our society and its conventions were not designed for me. I was an other. I am an other. [continue reading…]

Recently Passed Legislation Empowering Workers with Disabilities

Washington, DC, November 2 – National Disability Employment Awareness Month just wrapped up, but the work to get more people with disabilities into the workforce continues. Below, we are spotlighting recently passed legislation empowering workers with disabilities across the United States.

Gov. Newsom of California signed SB-951, AB-1041, AB-152, which have a combination of priorities that overlap to create room for Californians with disabilities. The new laws boost benefits for lower and middle-income Californians. They extend wage rates for family and disability leave for workers earning less than average wages, allowing them to make up to 90 percent of their salary. The laws also allow employees to pay sick or family leave to care for a designated family member, and extend COVID-19 supplemental sick leave through the end of 2022. [continue reading…]

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