Disability Employment: Laying the Groundwork



State governments often represent one of the largest employers in their respective state. Embracing hiring and employment practices with the intention of including workers with disabilities creates many job opportunities for those with disabilities. It also serves as a model for the private sector in creating an inclusive and accommodating work environment.

In addition to modeling inclusive hiring practices, state governments can lead in how they engage the disability community in decision making. Having people with disabilities serve on state boards, task forces, advisory groups, etc. as well as promoting disability awareness and inclusiveness both internally and with the public.  

State Policy Options 

A bipartisan task force of legislative and executive officials convened in 2016 to create a policy framework for increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The task force identified the following policy options to help lay a policy foundation to facilitate employment opportunities for people with disabilities.  

State as a Model Employer

States are encouraged to be model employers of people with disabilities, enacting policies that increase disability inclusion in the civil-sector workforce and serving as an example for private-sector employers to follow.

  • Use formal mechanisms to enact policies committing states to be model employers of people with disabilities.
  • Create infrastructure and strategic plan to maximize the likelihood that employment-related and other issues affecting people with disabilities are addressed by government agencies at the earliest stages of policy development, design, implementation and evaluation.
    • Create cabinet-level position.
    • Create interagency working group.
  • Adopt workforce analyses and hiring goals for people with disabilities comparable to those applicable to race, national origin and gender.
  • Adopt hiring systems, including fast-track hiring systems.
  • Adopt policies and procedures to facilitate advancement and retention.
  • Implement Stay-at-Work, Return-to-Work programs, policies and practices for state employment.
  • Provide training and information to state personnel.

US Map highlighting the 30 states that have enacted legislation relating to the State-as-a-Model Employer policy options


Capacity of Private and Nonprofit Sector

States can build capacity of private- and nonprofit-sector employers to engage in disability inclusion efforts. States can adopt policies that incentivize hiring of workers with disabilities and provide financial supports and technical assistance.

  • Provide technical assistance to and engage with businesses interested in employing individuals with disabilities.
  • Develop (or use existing) databases of persons with disabilities looking for employment.
  • Extend diversity and inclusion (e.g. affirmative action) policies for state government contractors, including requirements to prepare plans that include utilization analysis and goals applicable to race, national origin and gender, to include disability.
  • Expand and improve self-identification practices to ensure accurate counts of people with disabilities.
  • Explore convening a task force or summit bringing public and private interests together to discuss state disability employment issues. Utilize the task force or summit as an opportunity to identify business champions.
  • Explore coordinated strategies to support business hiring efforts, lessen administrative burdens, and engage in education and outreach to increase resource utilization.
  • Use tax incentive policies to encourage businesses to increase disability inclusion.
  • Explore tax credits for employment supports like physical building barrier removal, workplace accommodations, technology, transportation and child care.

US map highlighting the 30 states that have enacted legislation relating to the Private Sector Capacity policy options


External and Internal Focus on Disability Awareness

States are encouraged to have an external and internal focus on disability awareness, including disability etiquette. In developing awareness around disabilities, the focus should be cross-disability and include both visible and non-obvious disabilities.

  • States are encouraged to have an external and internal focus on disability awareness.
  • Training and certificate programs for all those in public and private sectors who work with children, youth and adults with disabilities should require disability-related professional development elements.

US map highlighting the 14 states that have enacted legislation relating to the disability awareness policy options


Interagency Coordination and Collaboration

States can implement policies that optimize resources and services through interagency coordination, collaboration and blending/braiding of funding, and implementation of robust performance measures.

  • Adopt Employment First initiatives that support policy alignment, collaboration, coordination and braiding/blending of funding and services across all relevant state systems to facilitate competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities, including individuals with the most significant disabilities.
  • Enhance cooperation and collaboration among state human resources and state agencies that work with people with disabilities by formalizing partnerships.
  • Expand and improve community linkages among organizations engaged in increasing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
  • Facilitate collaboration and coordination between federal, state and local educational agencies and state vocational rehabilitation programs, job training, workforce development systems, etc., regarding the design and implementation of career readiness and career development programs, ensuring they are person-centered and disability-inclusive (taking into consideration local control in some states).
  • Support existing job coach programs and identify funding sources for expanded supports for traditional employee placements and entrepreneurial efforts.
  • Develop an accessible one-call, one-click system within state governments to offer information and resources to assist and match people with disabilities with appropriate transportation and other services.
  • Establish or improve reporting mechanisms to measure success of program(s) and drive quality improvement.

US map highlighting the 27 states that have enacted legislation relating to the Interagency Coordination policy options


Recent State Actions

Since the release of Work Matters in December 2016, at least 25 states have enacted legislation related to the policy options listed under the Laying the Groundwork section of the Work Matters Policy Framework. Below are some of the legislative highlights:

State as a Model Employer

Illinois SB 726 establishes a trainee program for persons with a disability, authorizes state agencies to offer at least one position per year to be filled by a person with a disability through an established trainee program, sets forth program requirements.

Kentucky HB 338 creates an interview preference for service members and their families, including spouses, when applying for a certified position with a state agency.  

Texas SB 753 requires that all contractors participating in the state-funded Purchasing from People with Disabilities program increase their wages for workers with disabilities to the minimum wage.

Capacity of Private and Nonprofit Sector

Connecticut HB 7093 establishes a taskforce to study expanding existing employment assistance programs for people with disabilities and establishing financial incentives for businesses to employ more people with disabilities.

Kansas HB 2044 creates an income tax credit for taxpayers who purchase from Kansas businesses where at least 30% of the employees have a disability and where those employers are paid a wage no less than the minimum wage. Qualifying businesses must be certified by the state that they meet the requirements of the tax credit program.

Tennessee HB 759 requires state agencies that administer examinations for a license to engage in an occupation, trade, or profession in the state to provide appropriate accommodations for test-takers with disabilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

External and Internal Focus on Disability Awareness

Illinois SB 1136 requires each state agency to send at least one hiring manager each year to a training program about hiring people with disabilities.

Rhode Island HB 5289 seeks to update state job descriptions and state statutes with appropriate disability language.

Interagency Coordination and Collaboration

Illinois SB 2087 requires the Department of Human Services' Division of Rehabilitation Services to establish a 5-year Customized Employment Pilot Program. The program seeks to assist individuals with disabilities seeking employment but who may require more individualized assistance to achieve and maintain integrated employment at competitive wages through a process of customized planning and negotiation.

Pennsylvania HB 1641 provides for competitive integrated employment in state and county agencies, and any entity providing publicly funded education, training, employment and related services, and long term services and supports for working age residents with a disability. The bill establishes an Employment First policy, the Governor's Cabinet for People with Disabilities, and the Employment First Oversight Commission.

Texas SB 2038 directs the Texas Workforce Commission to prepare a report identifying potential funding sources for occupational skills training programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The report will also identify specific occupations in high-demand industries in the state that may be appropriate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The report will be published by November 2020.

What the Research Shows

Survey of Employer Perspectives on the Employment of People with Disabilities

The federal Office of Disability Employment Policy commissioned a national survey in 2008 to gauge employer attitudes and practices around hiring and employing workers with disabilities. The survey included response across 12 different industries in the both the public and private sector. ODEP is currently conducting an updated survey. 

Additional Resources