Pic-Disabled-WorkerIt’s truly sad that only during the month of October, aka National Disability Employment Awareness Month, is attention officially paid to the critical issue of jobs and the disability community. The problem is, after all, huge: The U.S. Department of Labor reports that about eight in 10 working-age Americans with disabilities don’t hold a job, and of those who are actively looking, about 13 percent remain unemployed (compared with 7 percent of the broader work force).

Even if most Americans are back to work after the recession, we are not and the national media doesn’t seem to care. But the federal government is paying some attention — even if just for the month. For example:

  • Elsewhere on this site, there’s a report that the Labor Department is giving grants to six states to improve employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities.

The department has also created a National Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities, to study and provide recommendations on ways to increase employment opportunities.

  • Ten people from across the country were honored at the White House this month for their efforts to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The group, called the “Champions of Change, ” include a veteran with a disability who runs his own organic egg business, managers from Walgreens, Procter & Gamble and Microsoft who have taken steps to boost disability employment within their ranks and the founder of a company that helps ensure that the digital systems businesses use are accessible.
  • The Census Bureau and the Labor Department have gotten more serious about gathering accurate data on unemployment among Americans with disabilities. Now, the Disability Employment Tabulation 2008-2010 will provide in-depth details on employment status, occupation, education and earnings.

One of its findings is that more than half of workers with disabilities (52 percent) earned less than $25,000 in the previous year, compared with just 38 percent of workers with no disabilities. This translates into an earnings gap where individuals with disabilities earn about 75 percent of what workers without disabilities earn.

  • In New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo established the Employment First Commission, which will work toward increasing employment and decreasing, while making competitive, integrated employment the first option when considering support and services for people with disabilities. Additionally, the state hopes to register 100 businesses with formal policies for hiring people with disabilities as part of their workforce strategies.
  • A study conducted by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania identified three key obstacles to hiring disabled workers. The first is negative employer perceptions, such as the fear felt by employers that employees with disabilities will create more work for their supervisors.

Another is that employers will find few outside resources to help recruit employees with disabilities. And, the third is lack of internal hiring support, which is often due to a lack of funds to create internal employer expertise in “hiring, accommodating and training people with disabilities.”

Seems to me they’re making it much harder than it needs to be.