States’ governors aim to help employ those with disabilities

Meet someone at a party or social gathering, and it’s almost guaranteed that at some point, the conversation will come around to, “what do you do for a living?”

For good or ill, in western society, what we do for work helps define our identities for others. In fact, at some point in our history, our work literally defined us – when two Johns lived in the same village, one became John the Miller and the other John the Cook. Hence the surname was born in part from vocational distinctions.

In a society where work so defines us, being unemployed can affect more than just the pocketbook. Work gives us purpose, self-worth, social opportunities and a routine. Anyone who has been out of work for any length of time can tell you that the effects of unemployment are deeper than you think.

What if that short-term unemployment lasts most or all of your life? How does that affect your identity?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 20 percent of people with disabilities either have or are even actively looking for work, compared to 69 percent of the general population. Of those who are looking for employment, almost twice as many are unable to find a job (15 percent versus 8 percent for those without disabilities). Economic tensions most certainly have a stronger effect on people with disabilities.

Jack Markell wants to change those statistics.Markell is the governor of Delaware and 2012-2013 chairman of the National Governors Association. He believes that people with disabilities have the right to the same opportunities as everyone else, including the right to work. His initiative, “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities,” aims to bring state policymakers and business leaders together with people with disabilities to increase employment rates for them.The incentive for states to participate in this initiative is not merely to improve the self-worth of their constituents. The real bottom line is that it makes economic sense to employ people with disabilities. Not only are they a viable and underused workforce, but by ensuring gainful employment for them, we reduce their dependence on government benefits. The advantages affect people with disabilities, the business community, our local communities and our economy.Markell began his initiative in July 2012, and both his initiative and his term as chairman of the NGA are soon coming to a close. During the course of the year, state governors have learned and explored best practices to use in their states to support employment of people with disabilities. How each state will implement changes as a result of this initiative is yet to be seen. Hopefully, the conversation will continue, and what has been a learning initiative will become common practice.More information about best practices for businesses employing people with disabilities can be found through the National Organization on Disability, www.nod.org. For information about local efforts to improve employment of people with disabilities, contact Community Connections Inc. at 385-3445 or communityconnectionsco.org.

Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.

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