While the vast majority of Americans with disabilities want to work, just over one-third are able to find jobs, according to a recent survey from RespectAbility, a nonprofit that works to empower and increase opportunities for people with disabilities.
That creates a major societal problem: Without gainful employment, more than 12 million people are losing out on wages that might fuel more independence, never mind the obvious hit to their feelings of self-worth. But there’s some good news: more than 343,000 new workers with disabilities took jobs in 2016, four times as many as the year before.
That finding is part of a separate RespectAbility report analyzing recent data from the 2017 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium, an online repository of federal data that’s compiled by the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire. The current percentage of people with disabilities who have jobs stands at 36% compared to 78% of people without disabilities who are employed.
The success of workplace hiring varies drastically from state to state. The top three states doing the best at inclusion are North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota (with rounded hiring rates of 54%, 52%, and 48%, respectively). Those states lagging the worst are West Virginia, followed by Alabama, and Mississippi (all have rates in the upper 20% range). There’s evidence that people with disabilities who are minorities may be doubly discriminated against; the hiring rate for African-Americans is especially low, at 28% overall.
RespectAbility’s analysis points out those places where opportunity is improving, many of which have committed to adopting strong transitional school-to-work programs and state policies that support equitable job-training and development and workplace hiring practices. Two groups with initiatives that appear to be succeeding are called Project SEARCH and Bridges from School to Work.
Project SEARCH, the report notes, is an example of an employer-led effort to match students with disabilities to new jobs. It’s active in 46 states and 78% of participants end up being hired. Bridges from School to Work is known for its career “assessments, workshops, and job matching.” The effort has placed candidates at 4.500 workplaces, according to its website, and it has been honored by several of the national and local employers in different cities where it works. Standout companies include Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Dallas, Sears and AMC Theatres in Los Angeles, and Walmart in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
RespectAbility’s analysis makes clear that it will take a multi-pronged approach to make change: policy shifts, new programs, and obviously ever-more companies with a strong commitment to fair hiring practices. In recent years, companies like JP Morgan Chase, Pepsi, UPS, SAP, Ernst & Young, IBM, Starbucks, and Walgreens have become particularly good role models for inclusion. As the report notes: “These companies have seen that people with disabilities are successful employees who improve businesses’ bottom lines.”