Thirty years ago, George H.W. Bush declared these motivating words as he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, which provided the path to civil rights protections for people with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, government services, and telecommunications. The struggle to bring the ADA into reality was years long, and its passage laid the groundwork for more inclusive American workplaces and communities.
Indeed, much progress has been made since the ADA’s signing to support the employment and, in turn, economic advancement of people with disabilities in American society. To highlight just a few:
- In the landmark Olmstead v. L.C. decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is discriminatory to segregate people with disabilities in employment and community living settings when integrated, community-based settings are available.
- In 2001, Congress established the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), creating a permanent entity to focus on disability within the context of federal labor policy.
- The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program was created to support employers who have invested in diversifying their workforce.
- Two updates to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act were implemented to ensure greater accessibility in the ever-expanding virtual world, as well as the physical.
- In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) clarified “disability” as an inclusive term, making it easier for a person seeking protection under the law to establish eligibility.
- The following year, DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) began publishing data on the employment status of people with disabilities, ensuring baseline data is available to measure the progress and impact of disability- and inclusivity-focused efforts.
- In 2013, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs updated Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act—which compels contractors to take proactive steps to recruit, hire, promote, and retain people with disabilities—strengthening the affirmative action provisions and aligning regulations to the ADAAA.
- Twice, Congress has updated the nation’s workforce development system, most recently in 2014 with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which made sweeping changes. Notably, WIOA infused disability employment into a general workforce development law—thereby recognizing that people with disabilities should have access to the same programs and services as everyone else. Through nondiscrimination and equal opportunity requirements, WIOA also affirmed that all people should be able to access and benefit from these services.
- In recognition that economic advancement is an essential part of the ADA, the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 created tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families.
This list of strides is by no means exhaustive, but it clearly illustrates a positive trajectory. It points toward a more inclusive society, one in which competitive, integrated employment is the norm and where everyone can contribute their talents and skills toward a rewarding career.
That said, work remains. The ADA calls on us to ensure that everyone is afforded a clear path to economic self-sufficiency and financial stability through employment. Yet, people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed, have difficulty finding work that offers a living wage, and more likely to experience poverty and homelessness.
To address these gaps, ODEP’s LEAD Center promotes equal opportunity and access within the greater workforce system governed by WIOA. For example,
- Our Inclusive Career Pathways Roadmap enables workforce professionals to access resources that will help people with disabilities achieve employment and economic self-sufficiency.
- Our DRIVE website allows users to conduct state comparisons and analyses to help guide policy development.
- Our interactive data visualization tool helps states and local areas investigate the status of their WIOA disability-related reporting, (and we are creating accompanying tools to help American Job Centers (AJCs) more effectively connect with and serve people with disabilities).
Also under development is:
- A robust financial toolkit that will offer crucial resources for anyone navigating a complex economic landscape, whether planning for, getting, keeping, advancing, or recovering from the loss of a job.
- Modular training for case managers so that they can connect veterans to inclusive apprenticeship opportunities.
- Statewide equal opportunity and programmatic accessibility training and technical assistance for workforce personnel in Virginia.
The work that we are conducting today is made possible by the groundwork laid in the last century, and the efforts undertaken in the last 30 years. The ADA was an early milestone on a continuing path—one that ends with economic security and full inclusion in our workplaces and community spaces. Doing this work together will enable all of us the opportunity to contribute to our collective success and advancement as a nation.
As we close out another National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we, at the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) are heartened to see the many and creative ways individuals and organizations helped bring this year’s theme, “America’s Workforce: Empowering All” to life.
We were also pleased to contribute to this year’s celebration with the launch of CDE’s latest public service announcement (PSA), “Working Works.” Through the voices of four individuals, this PSA shares the many ways work empowers all, whether we have disabilities or not. It also addresses the importance of ensuring that people can remain in the workforce following injury or illness and the role employers, health care professionals and others play in helping them do so.
Among the PSA’s participants is Cal Ripken, Jr., also known as baseball’s “all-time Iron Man” because he holds the record for most consecutive Major League Baseball games played, at 2,632. Cal appears alongside his longtime athletic trainer, Richie Bancells, who supported Cal’s efforts to “stay in the game” after injuries.
We also meet Ish Escobar, a human resources professional with a defense contractor, and U.S. Army veteran with service-connected disabilities, who wanted to “keep working” upon separation from the military. Participant Bruce Goebel is a third-generation cabinetmaker who, after a machinery accident severed his right hand, worked with his family, physicians and staff so he “could come back strong” when ready. Last, but not least, we have Chanelle Houston, a research analyst who returned to work following a spinal cord injury with strong support from colleagues and her health care team. Chanelle appears alongside occupational therapist, Christine Crawford, and with her company’s President and CEO, Kevin Beverly.
These individuals’ experiences clearly illustrate the value of retaining the talents of people following injury or illness. Not everyone is fortunate to have the support they did, however. For a variety of complex reasons, each year millions of Americans leave the workforce after injury or illness, to their detriment and that of their families, their employers and our nation.
At its most basic level, work is a matter of livelihood. It’s how we all earn a living and provide for our families. But, for many, it’s about more than that. It’s also about contributing our skills and experience, following a passion or being part of something larger than ourselves. It empowers all, on multiple levels—every day of every month.
About the Campaign for Disability Employment
The Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) is a collaborative effort among several disability and business organizations committed to changing attitudes about disability and employment. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. “Working Works” is the CDE’s fourth in a series of PSAs exploring different aspects of disability employment. To access these PSAs and learn more about the CDE, visit www.WhatCanYouDoCampaign.org.
Every day, many people apply for jobs they are interested in, and many are lucky enough to get them. Often though, people with a disability are not lucky enough to even be considered for jobs they might like and be good at because they might not be able to do every single part of a job description. That is where Customized Employment comes in.
My name is Brian Salewski, and my disability is on the autism spectrum. I recently had the opportunity to read a statement at a Department of Labor forum in Washington, D.C. about my experiences trying to get a paying job over the past 12 years, because the successful use of Customized Employment finally helped me to get the kind of job I wanted.
I graduated from Montgomery County MD Public Schools Special Education programs at age 21 with a certificate. During my high school and through graduation, I received job training that included office skills, such as data entry, filing, and bulk mailing, as well as other office skills, which I enjoyed. When my family and I picked a service provider agency to help me find employment, we made it clear that my first choice would be to get a job as an office assistant.
Through many years with this agency, I worked pretty much full-time, 9:00-4:00, five days a week at two different locations, but always as a volunteer. I performed various jobs such as pick-up and delivery of lab samples, making visitor badges, doing data entry for the cafeteria, recording everyone’s hours for Volunteer Services, copying, escorting patients, delivering items to hospital wards, and other jobs as assigned. I was happy to have a position that kept me busy all week, but I always reminded my job developers that I wanted a paying job.
Despite making my wishes clear, I was offered very few interviews for paying jobs over several years. Instead of working on job skills that would help me get the kind of job I wanted, I was sent to dust shelves and even to rake leaves at a farm…even though the goals on my annual review specifically said I should be training for an office job. At one point, I agreed to study to become a library page. I passed the test twice, but I wasn’t set up with interviews at libraries, even though that still was a formal goal on my annual review.
I switched agencies last August because my parents and I were very frustrated with the total lack of progress toward my goals. My new agency seemed to listen to us much more. We talked about many job possibilities, but they understood that my real goal was getting a job as an office assistant. At the new agency, I worked on computers, practiced interview skills, attended practice sessions about how to converse in an office, and how to speak to a supervisor if I had questions or needs. I liked that I was working on skills that might help me get the kind of job I wanted.
This agency used Customized Employment to help prepare me for that. After only four months, the opportunity came up for me to interview for an office assistant position. My job developer helped me apply. I practiced interview skills with staff and even brought home sample questions so I could practice at home. I was called for an interview at the Finance Department of Montgomery County Health and Human Services, which also used Customized Employment to create a job opportunity for a person with a disability….like me. I was asked back for a second interview and got the job, which I began the first week of February — only six months from the time I joined my new agency. That’s quite a difference from 12 years with no Customized Employment and no job offers!
At my job, I do archiving, make copies, do filing, move boxes, and I learned to scan documents. I hope to learn other new skills and am willing and able to try anything. I have an excellent memory, am very reliable and responsible, and learn very quickly, but somehow it still took over 12 years for me to get a paying job. All I needed was a chance and the right match, and I am so happy that I finally got that.
I like the people I work with, the jobs I do, having responsibility and working independently. Best of all, I like that I have a paying job and feel very proud when I print out my pay slip every two weeks. I received travel training, which only took one trip for me to learn, and I get to and from work independently on the bus. I have had to wait a long time for the kind of job I wanted and always knew I could do, and I am very happy to have this position. Customized Employment is described as a “win-win” situation; it helped me get a job I love, and my employer got a person who can do a specific job very well, if I say so myself. You can’t beat that!
Brian Salewski is a 35-year old life-long resident of Montgomery County MD. Prior to beginning his current job, which is part-time, he volunteered full-time, five days a week; first at Brooke Grove Retirement Community in Sandy Spring, MD; then at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney, MD, where he still volunteers two days a week. Brian has an active lifestyle, participating in softball, tennis and basketball for Montgomery County MD Special Olympics. His softball and basketball teams have both won several state gold medals, and he has twice participated in Special Olympics USA Games and won gold medals in traditional men’s tennis and doubles tennis both times. Brian belongs to a weekly bowling group and an organized social group in which he goes to plays, dances, bingo nights, etc. He also participates in weekly social activities with his service provider agency. Brian takes guitar lessons, loves amusement parks, the beach, movies, and going to Nationals baseball games. He lives at home with his parents and his twin brother in Olney, MD.