By Kyle Ingram and Mark Wolf
What can states do to help their citizens with disabilities enter the workforce and advance their careers?
Quite a bit, suggest Minnesota Senator John Hoffman (D) and Tennessee Senator Becky Massey (R), who both served on a task force addressing workforce development for people with disabilities.
This task force, jointly convened by NCSL and the Council of State Governments, was charged with developing comprehensive policy options supporting increased employment access and opportunities for people with disabilities.
The work of the task force, carried out in the course of 2016, culminated in the release of “Work Matters: A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities,” which was officially released during a Thursday session of the NCSL Capitol Forum.
The framework provides 13 broad policy options designed to be considered in part or in full by state policymakers who recognize, as the report suggests, that “people with disabilities are a key factor in states' ability to build strong, inclusive workforces that translate into economic success.”
In a presentation—made before members of the NCSL Labor and Economic Development, Education, Health and Human Services, and Budgets and Revenue standing committees and Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force—Massey and Hoffman outlined the task force process and the contents of the report. Joining Hoffman and Massey on the panel, were Nevada Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton (D); Taryn Williams, chief of staff, U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy; and Leslie Wolfe of the international human relations company Maximus.
“Employment for disabled persons means more than a paycheck, it means truly being part of the community," said Massey, who added that states need to help businesses navigate the complexity of benefits available to the disabled. Disabled people also need a more supportive path, including tax and financial incentives, to self-employment and entrepreneurship, she said, noting that about 10 percent of people with disabilities are self-employed, compared to 6.3 percent of non-disabled workers.
Hoffman said, “We know beyond a shadow of a doubt you’re twice as likely to fall below the poverty line if you ave a disability. They go hand in hand."
One-size-fits-all is not a good template for disability employment issues, said Williams.
“What works in one place might not work in another, but what works in one state might well work in another," she said. “Disability is a natural part of the human condition. The report explores the fact that disability can develop at any point in a person's life. Their voices should be present at all policy discussions at all levels. When all people who can work do work, it's good for the economy."
Barriers to findig and returning to work include lack of confidence, a culture of low or no aspirations too often installed from a young age, and poor communication skills, said Wolfe, adding that, “It isn't educatiion and it isn't talent."
The Work Matters framework tackles wide-ranging policy issues affecting workforce development for people with disabilities. It recognizes that “moving the needle on this critical workforce issue will require strong public policy at the state level that systematically addresses a number of key areas.”
The task force explored policy options and state examples across a number of issue areas like education, state employment, transportation, technology, health and human services, employer incentives, workforce training and economic development.
This comprehensive approach in the Work Matters framework ensures that policymakers in every state will find relevant strategies and state examples to consider.
Kyle Ingram is a policy specialist covering disabilities and employment issues for the Environment, Energy and Transportation program. Mark Wolf is editor of the NCSL blog.