Let people with disabilities have opportunity to work

Almost 22 million Americans of working age have a disability, representing one-eighth of all working-age Americans.

Almost 22 million Americans of working age have a disability, representing one-eighth of all working-age Americans.

They are only half as likely as Americans without disabilities to be employed (38 percent compared with 78 percent), with an especially low employment rate among those who have more severe disabilities (17 percent among those who have difficulty with self-care and those who have difficulty going outside the home alone). That’s a lot of productivity being ignored and wasted.

If you are born with a disability you are likely to experience poverty throughout most of your life, unless you are one of the lucky few who get a job.

Most Americans who work earn more than a paycheck. They earn respect, acceptance, friendship, the opportunity to grow and thrive, a place to express their gifts. When we deny people with disabilities the opportunity to work because of our own fears and misconceptions, we rob them of many of the advantages Americans take for granted.

Having a disability that impacts how you participate in the activities of daily living does not mean that your thoughts, feelings, emotions and dreams are disabled. It does not mean that you relinquish your right to opportunity and to gainful employment. People with disabilities have talents and the desire to contribute.

“It is important to note that having people with disabilities in the workplace is valuable to the individual and to businesses,” said Neil Romano, assistant secretary for the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. “People with disabilities are the next great wave of diversity, and diversity fosters innovation to drive our economy and our nation into the future.”

What is preventing more people with disabilities from working? Not enough of us believe that they can. Not enough of us believe that they should.

It is not a shortage of work or of talent. A few months ago, many companies were scrambling to find employees. Even in tighter times, business owners talk about the dearth of good job candidates. AtWork! helps people with disabilities find jobs and provides training and support so that people with disabilities can be successful in the workplace. We are part of a nationwide movement to “change the face of employment”.

We see lives transformed; we see businesses thrive when people with disabilities are integrated into the workforce. Our nation faces a workforce shortage as baby boomers retire and our birth rate continues to decline.

Rather than sending jobs overseas, restricting the growth of business, or importing workers, be aware of this largely untapped workforce eagerly awaiting opportunity. All it takes is a greater awareness of the capabilities and talents of all citizens and the will to do something about it.