Eau Claire, WI, Apr. 7 – As labor markets tighten and people with disabilities prove to be a solution for market growth, RespectAbility will join Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a national leader on employment and opportunities for people with disabilities, for a tour of three dynamic and successful inclusive employers across Wisconsin. Gov. Walker will be highlighting the success stories of Wisconsinites with disabilities and talking about several new initiatives that are preparing more people with disabilities enter Wisconsin’s workforce.
Between 2016 and 2015, 4,327 more people with disabilities entered Wisconsin’s workforce, driving the state’s disability employment rate higher to 41.2 percent. That means Wisconsin is vastly outperforming other states such as New York and Connecticut, where people with disabilities are leaving the labor force each year. According to data from Disability Statistics Compendium, Wisconsin now is one of the top 10 states with the highest employment rates for people with disabilities.
Wisconsin is at the forefront of nationwide gains in terms of disability employment. In a new report published by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD), people with disabilities have experienced a solid year of job growth.
“One year of employment growth is very encouraging and shows people with disabilities are striving to work,” said John O’Neill, Ph.D. of the Kessler Foundation. “We have seen twelve consecutive months of improvement in the proportion of people with disabilities in the workplace.”
According to UNH Prof. Andrew Houtenville, “The employment gains by people with disabilities continue to outpace those of people without disabilities.”
“While there has been an explosion of Americans on disability rolls, the fact is that people with disabilities can be a talent solution that our economy needs” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility, a nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. “Gov. Walker is creating tangible progress by replacing broken programs with proven solutions that are win-win-win for people with disabilities, employers and taxpayers alike. Thanks to his vision and leadership, youth with disabilities are able to have the dignity and money that a job provides – instead of a lifetime of dependency and despair.”
Gov. Walker will visit the HSHS St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay, the Aspirus Riverview Hospital in Wisconsin Rapids and then the Mayo Clinic in Eau Claire. At each of these sites, the lives of young people with disabilities are being transformed by the opportunity to work in a competitive setting and to gain critical life skills.
Another great example of a state leading on these issues is Pennsylvania where Gov. Tom Wolf has made jobs for people with disabilities a key part of the Commonwealth’s workforce development strategies. As reported by RespectAbility, Pennsylvania outpaced bigger states like Texas and California in terms of getting working age people with disabilities into the workforce.
Gov. Walker has long been a champion on the issue of employment for people with disabilities in his state. In his 2014 State of the State Address, he put jobs for people with disabilities front and center of his agenda by proclaiming the Year of A Better Bottom Line. A crucial priority was expanding Project SEARCH to more sites and more businesses across the state.
In 2013, Wisconsin was home to only three such programs, serving only around 36 youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities each school year. In 2015, Project SEARCH in Wisconsin added 14 new sites, serving approximately 140 youth each year. Because of the Blueprint for Prosperity Initiative, Wisconsin will very soon host a total of 27 sites, serving more than 300 youth with disabilities annually.
In total there are 351,787 working-age Wisconsinites with disabilities. Out of the number, 144,815 have the dignity, independence and income that employment provides. That means that 41.2 percent of working-age Wisconsinites with disabilities is employed compared to the national average of only 34 percent. Nationally there are more than 22 million working-age people with disabilities and only seven million have jobs. Fully 14 million are living on government benefits, even though studies show that most want to work.
In his Monday visits, Gov. Walker will see a Project SEARCH site as it trains youth with a wide range of disabilities practical job skills that will fully prepare them for careers in fields such as healthcare and eldercare. Project SEARCH is a school-to-work transition program that empowers young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to successfully transition from the classroom and into the world of work. Without this type of support, young people with disabilities face incredible challenges entering the workforce and earning an income. In fact, those with intellectual and development disabilities face only a 20 percent employment outcome without transition services. Instead, Project SEARCH has a 70 percent employment outcome meaning that seven out of ten participants gain a job and set themselves on a path toward success.
“People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to workplaces that benefit employers and organizations,” said Philip Pauli, Policy Director for RespectAbility. “As demonstrated by the success of Project SEARCH, people with disabilities can work in hospitals, hotels and elder care. We also have seen that they be super talents in developing computer software and in many other fields.”
Gov. Walker has spoken about the importance of jobs for people with disabilities both in Wisconsin through regular visits to inclusive employers and in Washington, D.C. In February, speaking at the Washington Post, he made it clear that one of his budget priorities for 2017 was to “help people with disabilities who overwhelmingly want to work” find jobs and apply those lessons to “go beyond traditional welfare reform.”
Project SEARCH is not the only program Wisconsin has invested in.
“Wisconsin has made particular progress in getting youth with disabilities into jobs through efforts like Wisconsin PROMISE, BPDD’s Let’s Get to Work employment grant, and Project SEARCH,” said Beth Swedeen, Executive Director of the Board for People with Developmental Disabilities (BPDD). “The research is clear that early investment in paid job experiences while youth are still in high school more than doubles the chance a student with disabilities will go onto permanent employment as an adult.”
BPDD is also a supporter of two youth employment initiatives in the Governor’s proposed biennial budget for the Department of Public Instruction. The proposals would reward schools that get youth with disabilities into employment or post-school training and would provide grants to districts for direct employment supports for youth with disabilities. That is good news for the 22,000 young Wisconsinites with disabilities ages 16 to 20. Nearly 5,000 youth with disabilities exit Wisconsin’s school system every year and now, thanks to Gov. Walker’s leadership, they have increasing opportunities to succeed.
“At the end of the day, our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” Mizrahi said “People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence, just like anyone else.”
President Trump himself spoke about ensuring that “every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential” and that “millions lifted from welfare to work is not too much to expect.”
Mizrahi expressed her deepest hopes that as the economy continues to grow, that the new administration will make jobs and independence for people with disabilities a high priority.
For more information, or to conduct an interview with one of RespectAbility’s policy experts, contact Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi at 202-365-0787 or JenniferM@RespectAbiltyUSA.org or Philip Pauli at PhilipP@RespectAbilityUSA.org.