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10 Things to Know About People With Disabilities And Employment

Accommodations for Employees with Disabilities Benefit Your Entire Company

Original Article by Andrew Pulrang  | Forbes

  1. Rates of unemployment for people with disabilities are consistently very high — much higher than for non-disabled people. Raw numbers alone don’t tell the full story. We have to compare employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people, in two distinct measures:
  • Working-age employment to population ratio — the percent of people 16-64 that are employed: in 2020 it was 17.9% for people with disabilities, compared with 61.8% for non-disabled people.
  • Unemployment rate — the percent of the population who are unemployed and actively looking for work: in 2020 it was 12.6% for people with disabilities, compared to 7.9% for non-disabled people.
  1. Disability rights laws like Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act are designed to protect disabled people from workplace disability discrimination, and mandate accessibility and individual accommodations. But these regulations are hard to enforce. In most real-life workplaces, the threat of an ADA discrimination lawsuit from a disabled applicant turned down for a job, or a disabled employee denied and accommodation just isn’t that signficant. The ADA provides a valuable template for equal opportunity, but not as much protection as some might think.
  2. The federal government and some states have numerical hiring goals in an effort to open up employment opportunities to people with disabilities in government. This provides a potentially strong incentive, but only for a fairly narrow segment of the workforce,
  3. Every state has a program specifically designed to help people with disabilities train for employment, and get and keep jobs. Each state program has its own name, but they are all generally termed “Vocational Rehabilitation.” It provides job counseling, adaptation ideas, various job training and coaching programs, and some funding for education. It’s a slate of services designed to help disabled people become more competitive in the job market. It’s a professional field that got its earliest start after the Civil War, and really got going after the First and Second World Wars, initially serving wounded soldiers looking for ways to make a living.
  4. There are two different Social Security programs for people with disabilities who are deemed “unable to work” — Supplemental Security Income, (SSI), and Social Security Disability, (SSDI). Their amounts and eligibility criteria are different and can be quite complex. Roughly speaking, SSDI is for disabled people who have worked before, and their monthly benefits are based on their previous wages. SSI is based on income, and you don’t have to have worked to get it.
  5. There are various restrictions on how much a disabled person can earn and save while still collecting SSDI, SSI, Medicaid and Medicare. While there are rules in place that are supposed to make it possible to gradually transition from benefits to work, most of these criteria and rules haven’t been significantly updated in decades. As a result, while Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare are absolutely essential for many disabled people, their eligibility criteria also tend to trap us in poverty, and make actually doing well in a job perversely risky.
  6. There is an over 80 year old provision of federal employment law that allows some disabled people to be paid less than minimum wage. It is intended to provide jobs for people who are thought to be unable to get any job at standard wages. It’s also supposed to be temporary, like an extended internship. But it tends to become permanent. And it’s often used as a dumping ground that looks like success, and as a source of cheap, easily exploited labor for some businesses. There is a growing movement to end the practice, but also some anxious opposition.
  7. One appealing way to avoid the disability discrimination that persists in so many standard workplaces is to set up special businesses specifically to provide employment to people with disabilities. You hear about them every now and then in your local news. Coffee shops and similar businesses that are promoted as employment opportunities for people with disabilities make for uplifting news stories. But while they can be genuinely positive workplaces, it’s important to ask critical questions about how the workers are paid, how they are treated on the job, and whether they are employed throughout the business or just in certain low-status roles.
  8. There are several organizations that study disability and employment in depth, in an effort to better understand barriers to employment and hopefully suggest new solutions that might actually make a significant impact on that huge employment gap. These include Mathematica and the Kessler Foundation’s National Trends In Disability Employment, (nTIDE), program, which offers weekly online “Lunch and Learn” sessions anyone can join. Both these and similar programs try to go beyond the obvious, and figure out what roles are played by discrimination, education and job training, benefits rules, and wider economic and social conditions.
  9. The working from home aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an interesting experience for many disabled people. A lot of us have been clamoring for a long time for more opportunities to work from home. We hope these new opportunities will continue when the pandemic wanes. That said, we want working from home to be a choice for people with disabilities, not some kind of easier alternative to making workplaces accessible.

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Digitability is the only scalable, STEM-focused, pre-employment transition curriculum that continues to be recognized as an innovative solution to the unemployment crisis facing a large — and growing — population of those with disabilities, such as autism, intellectual disability, or Down syndrome. Students graduate with a complete work-ready portfolio and self-advocacy plan for any workplace.

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