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New Initiative Promotes Employing More People with Disabilities:Studies Show They Are Top Employees

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“Today, Americans with disabilities are facing disproportionately high rates of unemployment compared to Americans without disabilities,” said Jack Markell, National Governors Association Chair, in his letter from 2012 announcing the initiative “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.” The initiative began last year, and this month, the NGA published a follow-up report in the form of a blueprint for companies. The intent of the format was to encourage businesses and government to apply it as a model for inclusive employment efforts, also adding statistics and testimonials of why this method works.

In an interview this month with PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff, Markell explained why the NGA blueprint includes both businesses and the government. He said the way they've been doing it till now is ineffective: "I think for too long states have approached businesses asking businesses as a favor to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities really as a charity. That's not what this is about. We have to change our mind-set. We have to recognize that we're business partners." The NGA's recommendations for the government fall under five key categories, outlined in their blueprint as such:

• Make disability employment part of the state workforce development strategy.

• Find and support businesses in their efforts to employ people with disabilities.

• Be a model employer by increasing the number of people with disabilities working in state government.

• Prepare youth with disabilities for careers that use their full potential, providing employers with a pipeline of skilled workers.

• Make the best use of limited resources to advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities

But the responsibility isn't entirely legislative. Markell speculated as to why more people with disabilities aren't currently employed: "I think not enough businesses are hearing this message. They don't know that there are so many successful examples of companies that are providing these employment opportunities to people with disabilities and how well it's working out." 

The initiative sought to change that. Markell said discussions with businesspeople throughout the campaign affirmed they care about an employee’s ability, not his or her disability. “We have seen so many companies around the country benefit when they give people with disabilities a shot at employment."

In fact, a new study published this month stated that people with disabilities may actually be better workers than those without. According to this article (posted on AbilityLinks's Facebook Page), “Studies of Walgreens’s experience at a few distribution centers show disabled workers are more efficient and loyal than nondisabled workers. Absenteeism has gone down, turnover is less, and safety statistics are up. And the cost of accommodating such workers with new technologies and education is minimal.” A lot of businesses are startled by this report, but perhaps they shouldn't be.

It comes as no surprise that, in general, people with disabilities have had to work harder than their non-disabled peers to achieve the same goals. Now, this ingenuity and dedication is being recognized by employers as an asset--almost to an extreme opposite. While historically, stereotyping people with disabilities has been detrimental, now it's being flipped around to celebrate them. Markell gave an example in his interview: "A regional company, with thousands of employees, has committed over the next few years that 3 percent of their consultants will be people with autism because they found that many people with autism are great at data testing and software quality analysis and the like." Personally, I find this incredible. What a fabulous turnabout that disability is now seen by some as a sort of superpower--not a lack of skill, but an amplification.

Markell emphasized that the NGA's initiative is not a legal imperative, but rather an appeal. "The beauty of this is if you talk to these businesses, once they give some of these folks a shot at employment, they find out it's actually in the best interest of their own shareholders," he said. "So this is not a requirement. We do believe that we as states have to do a better job of walking the walk and being a model employer of people with disabilities, but businesses will choose to do it."

The initiative said that one challenge businesses faced was finding those qualified job-seekers with disabilities. That's why specialized networks like AbilityLinksare so important, because they bridge that gap. It makes the link easy and efficient on a national scale, filling necessary jobs with specially qualified candidates who just so happen to have a disability--or perhaps a super-ability. It's not just the right thing to do; it's the best thing to do, says the initiative. We couldn't agree more.