National Council on Disability Says Increase Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities

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Contact: Mark S. Quigley
202-272-2004

WASHINGTON—The National Council on Disability (NCD) today, on the first day of National Disability Employment Awareness month, released a report that presents the best practices in the public and private sectors and the promising public policies and initiatives that increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The employment rate of working age people with disabilities remains only half that of people without disabilities (38 percent compared with 78 percent in 2005).

The report, Empowerment for Americans with Disabilities: Breaking Barriers to Careers and Full Employment, (/publications/2007/NCDEmployment) comprehensively reviews the issues integral to the employment of people with disabilities. It has two broad aims: 1) to summarize the existing knowledge regarding the employment of people with disabilities in a series of short issue briefs; and 2) to present new information on the perspectives of employers, people with disabilities, and disability specialists on the key barriers and facilitators of employment.

According to NCD chairperson John R. Vaughn, "For Americans with disabilities, no less than for all other citizens, the opportunity to earn a living and be self-supporting is a universally held goal. Yet in perhaps no area of public policy has the expectations gap so stubbornly resisted our efforts to achieve equality. Whatever set of statistics one chooses from among the varying estimates of disabled Americans' employment rates, the rate and level of employment for this population remain far too low. These employment and earnings gaps are a substantial public and policy concern. A lack of employment opportunities limits the ability of many people with disabilities to fully participate in society, since employment plays a number of important roles and functions for individuals."

"There is a direct benefit to expanding the employment opportunities for people with disabilities. For employers who are projected to face labor shortages as the baby-boom generation retires, non-employed people with disabilities represent a valuable tool of human resources to help fill those needs. For people with disabilities, employment has not just economic value, but important social and psychological value. For government, increased employment of people with disabilities helps increase tax receipts and decrease social expenditures. Finally, as recognized in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are societal benefits from greater inclusiveness in mainstream society as the barriers facing people with disabilities are dismantled," Vaughn concluded.

NCD received advice and guidance from a Business Advisory Committee, chaired by J.T. (Ted) Childs Jr. (Principal, Ted Childs LLC), made up of representatives from 25 U.S. companies. NCD also received advice and guidance from an Expert Advisory Panel, comprising experts in the field of disability and employment.

As part of a road map to improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities, NCD offers the following recommendations that supplement the best practices and existing public policies and initiatives:

  • Conduct public forums on the status of the New Freedom Initiative: There should be meetings in each of the 50 states with diverse stakeholders to report on the progress of the New Freedom Initiative.
  • Design and fund a coordinated set of demonstration projects by multiple federal agencies: These demonstration/pilot projects would examine the effectiveness of a wide range of policies addressing many of the employment facilitators and barriers. The projects should examine how a combination of policies, rather than each policy in isolation, affects employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
  • Establish and maintain a National Business Advisory Council: Modeled on the council advising this study, an ongoing business advisory council with representatives from large and small employers would share information with employers in general and provide advice to the National Council on Disability, the President, Congress, and other federal agencies.
  • Conduct a public information campaign: A massive public information campaign could help match employers and people with disabilities, in part by publicizing employer best practices, successful public/private partnerships, accessible technologies, and universal design methods.
  • Clarify ADA coverage: Congress should reaffirm the intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and clarify who is covered and eligible for workplace accommodations, including the definition of disability without regard to accommodations or other mitigating measures, to reduce employer uncertainty and fear of the unknown.
  • Improve vocational rehabilitation and workforce investment services and outcomes: This should include a) additional study of vocational rehabilitation outcomes by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO); b) research on accessibility of one-stop centers and the need for increased enforcement; and c) congressional hearings on the Workforce Investment Act and the need for improved collaboration within and outside the one-stop career centers.
  • Modify the Social Security disability income system to promote work and advance self-sufficiency: There should be evaluation of the effectiveness of current work incentives and a multistate demonstration that allows beneficiaries to work without loss of cash benefits or health coverage for five years.
  • Improve access and availability of long-term services and supports: There should be a) several incremental reforms to decrease the system's fragmentation and otherwise improve delivery of long-term services and supports and service, including establishment of a National Resource Center on Consumer Self-Direction that identifies and disseminates best practice information; and b) an AmeriWell program, which is a pre-funded, mandatory, long-term services and support model that provides all Americans of any age with coverage from birth.
  • Increase opportunities for self-employment: The Small Business Administration should affirm the inclusion of small businesses owned by people with disabilities as minority contractors entitled to federal procurement set-asides, and establish a National Resource Center on Self-Employment and People with Disabilities to provide training and technical assistance and improve cross-agency collaboration. Congress should establish tax incentives for corporations to purchase products and services from small businesses owned by people with disabilities.

NCD is an independent federal agency and is composed of 15 members appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. It provides advice to the President, Congress, and executive branch agencies to promote policies, programs, practices, and procedures that guarantee equal opportunity for all individuals with disabilities, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability, and to empower individuals with disabilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and inclusion and integration into all aspects of society.

For more information, please contact NCD's director of communications Mark S. Quigley at mquigley@ncd.gov or by telephone at 202-272-2004.