The NCSL Blog


By Josh Cunningham

Unemployment among people with disabilities remains more than double the national average. And the labor force participation rate is less than a third of those without a disability.

Two workers, one disabledIn response, more than half of state legislatures passed legislation last year affecting employment opportunities for people with disabilities. NCSL’s new webpage recaps state actions from 2017 on disability employment policy.

Following the December 2016 release of “Work Matters: A Framework for States on Workforce Development for People with Disabilities,” the 2017 legislative sessions represent the first opportunity to analyze state actions in comparison to the Work Matters policy framework.

NCSL reviewed 2017 legislative enactments from around the country that related to the policy framework. At least 28 states signed 51 bills into law that align with the framework. Within those bills, a few trends stand out.

The most common component of the Work Matters policy framework enacted in 2017 relates to states serving as model employers. State governments, as one of the largest employers in each state, can be a model for the private sector. Practices such as interview and hiring preferences, including people with disabilities in the policy decision-making process, and training hiring managers on anti-discriminatory application and interview strategies. Ten states enacted 12 bills in 2017 exemplifying the state as a model employer of people with disabilities.

A 2014 federal law called the Achieving Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was the subject of nine bills in nine states in 2017. This federal program is administered at the state level and permits the creation of tax-advantaged savings accounts for people with disabilities. Post-tax contributions can be made into an ABLE account and the funds can be used to cover various disability-related expenses, including housing, education and transportation. ABLE accounts are unique from other federal disability benefits in that eligibility is not income-based and participation does not affect eligibility for other federal benefits. States must opt into the program leading many legislatures to pass legislation in 2017 creating or amending ABLE account programs.

As most states are in the midst of their 2018 legislative sessions, NCSL is keeping a close eye on new and continuing trends. Visit our Disability Employment Legislative Database for details about past and present legislation on this issue.

Josh Cunningham is a program manager in NCSL's Employment, Labor and Retirement program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.