By Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi
It’s the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, yet less than a third of New York State’s one million working-age people with disabilities are employed. This lack of opportunity creates poverty, powerlessness and worse.
Fully one in five Americans have a disability. A recent survey sponsored by the Kessler Foundation confirms that the majority of working-age people with disabilities are “striving to work.” While persistent stigmas remain an obstacle, the evidence shows that people with disabilities can be highly successful workers.
For example, Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson and finance wizard Charles Schwab are dyslexic. Scientist Stephen Hawking and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, like President Franklin D. Roosevelt before them, are wheelchair users. Author Christopher Nolan has cerebral palsy. He writes using a special computer and his work has been compared to that of Joyce, Keats and Yeats.
Today in New York State 68,000 youths with disabilities are preparing to enter the labor market. They have high expectations and deserve the same opportunities to achieve the American dream as anyone else.
People with disabilities may need some help transitioning into the workforce. People who are blind, deaf or non-verbal frequently use assistive technology. Similarly, people with intellectual disabilities can benefit greatly from internship opportunities and job coaches. EY, IBM, AT&T, Sprint, Google and other companies has proven that people with disabilities can be extremely capable and loyal workers. While there are few Stephen Hawkings – with or without disabilities – people with disabilities can work in restaurants, tend our parks, assist aging seniors and be super talents in developing computer software.
Vocational rehabilitation programs in New York State helped 12,386 people with disabilities find work in 2012. However, they can do even more in the future. Under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, Gov. Andrew Cuomo can bring together the branches of government so that education, transportation, workforce development, health care and others work together with employers and people with disabilities themselves to create strategies to enable people with barriers to work to obtain jobs and careers.
While a safety net is a must, it’s time for New York State to have an “employment first” strategy that goes beyond simply an executive order for people with disabilities. People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to have the dignity, friendships, income and purpose that jobs and careers provide.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the president of RespectAbilityUSA.org, a non-profit organization working to enable people with disabilities to achieve the American dream.