This post also appears on the HHS Blog.
During National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and the value of a workforce that includes their skills and talents.
Inclusive workplaces—where people with diverse talents, experiences, and abilities work side-by-side—benefit employees and employers alike. For example, a retail distribution center in South Carolina developed around principles of accessibility and inclusion quickly became one of the company’s most efficient centers. And there are thousands of people like Eric and William, who are thriving in integrated jobs they love.
This year, the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) chose #InclusionWorks as the theme for NDEAM. As the stories above and countless others illustrate, inclusion does work.
Unfortunately, far too many people with disabilities never get the chance to contribute in an integrated workplace, and too many employers miss out on their talents. The latest National Trends in Disability Employment report, funded by ACL’s National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), found an employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities of just 28%, compared to 73% for people without disabilities. While this is nearly 6% above last year, we clearly have a long way to go.
There are many reasons people with disabilities can have trouble finding integrated employment. Some are physical, such as workplaces that have stairs without ramps. In many other cases, the problem is low expectations and inaccurate beliefs about the capabilities of people with disabilities.
Fortunately, we are seeing promise. Many states have embraced an “Employment First” approach that aligns policies, service delivery practices, and reimbursement structures to prioritize integrated employment in publicly financed day and employment services and to better support access to integrated, competitive employment for people with disabilities.
At ACL and across HHS, with federal partners like ODEP, we are working to further these goals. ACL’s Partnerships in Employment Systems Change (PIE) grants promote collaboration across state and nonprofit organizations. Six new states recently received grants totaling $1.8 million.
ACL programs also:
- Fund research on employment practices
- Increase access to assistive technology
- Promote promising practices for employment service providers
- Advise employers on accessibility and ADA compliance
- Provide legal support to people with disabilities facing discrimination
Our colleagues at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also have been working to support disability employment. Among other initiatives, CMS issued rules that say home- and community-based services and supports that states elect to provide under Medicaid must be offered in integrated settings that support full access to the greater community.
Our workplaces, and our communities, are stronger when everyone has the opportunity to fully participate. Join us in expanding and strengthening those opportunities for people with disabilities.