The Disabled Population and Unemployment
Work gives people, especially people with disabilities, a sense of purpose and self-worth. For disabled people, working gives them a sense of justifiable pride. Work improves individual and family financial situations and most importantly allows disabled people to connect others. For a person with a disability employment can mean economic self-sufficiency, an opportunity to use the skills they possess, and the ability to actively participate in their communities. Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 which prohibited discrimination of disability in employment, however, there is still a staggering employment gap between Americans with and without disabilities. Unemployment among the disabled continues to be a problem in Florida, especially in urban areas like Jacksonville, and is expected to continue to worsen. Organizations such as The Center for Independent Living work to ensure that all individuals, regardless of disability, have equal opportunity to lead full lives and be productive members of society.
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Disability as defined by The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Current Population Survey (CPS) is a person over the age of 15 who has; “physical, mental, or emotional conditions that cause serious difficulty with their daily activities” (U.S. BLS, 2019). The U.S. BLS found that in 2018 only 19.1 percent of people with a disability were employed, compared to 65.9 percent of people without a disability (BLS, 2019). Florida is ranked 39th out of 50 states for disability employment with only 34.1 percent of people with disabilities employed (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). The Florida Chamber of Commerce estimates that there are more than 1.13 million Floridians with disabilities in the age range of 16 to 65, the typical age group of the workforce (2020). Today 62.9 percent of Floridians with disabilities are not in the workforce, this translates to more than 700,000 Floridians with disabilities who are unemployed (FL Chamber of Commerce, 2020).
In the Jacksonville Metropolitan Area, the U.S. Census Bureau reports there are approximately 176,000 people over the age of 16 with disabilities, about 10% of the population (DADS, 2017). Of these people living with a disability about 24% or 42,000 are employed and more than 72 percent, or over 134,000, people with a disability are unemployed in Jacksonville (2017). Lack of employment greatly contributes to the fact that 19% of people with disabilities in Jacksonville live below the poverty line, and another 11% barely above it (2017). Increasing the chances of finding and keeping jobs will help Floridians with disabilities find a way out of poverty and attain self-sufficiency.
People may believe that people on disability don’t work or don’t want to work because they receive money from the federal government. A disabled person only receives $750 a month, without employment this small amount would need to cover all living expenses. In most metropolitan areas, such as Jacksonville, this is not enough money to live on (Florida DCF, 2019). In the past disabled individuals did not look for work for fear of losing their government subsidies. Today laws are in place to assure that a disabled person can keep their disability benefits and still be gainfully employed.
Center for Independent Living
The NASW issued the following policy statement regarding people with disabilities recognizing “a national policy that ensures the right of people with disabilities to participate fully and equitably in society. This participation includes the freedom, to the fullest extent possible, to live independently, to exercise self-determination, to make decisions about their living conditions and treatment plans, to obtain an education, to be employed and to participate as citizens” (Wehrnann & McClain, 2018). One Organization in Jacksonville that works to enforce the NASW policy is the Center for Independent Living (CIL).
The CIL Jacksonville is a charitable not for profit organization founded in 1978, dedicated to helping “empower all people with a disability to live independent, self-empowered lives” (ilrc, 2020). Centers for Independent Living offer support, advocacy, and information including networking, job referral, employment support and help with job retention to individuals with disabilities. Advocates for independent living helped to pass regulations banning discrimination against people with disabilities and were a huge part of the Disability Rights Movement which led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They continue to fight to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are protected. Their vision is to achieve “full opportunity for all through self-empowerment, self-determination and equal access” (ilrc, 2020).
CIL Jacksonville empowers individuals with disabilities to find employment through readiness, placement and retention services for both the employer and the employee. CIL Jacksonville participates in the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA). This is a cooperative program for local agencies and the Social Security Administration to provide work incentives and planning services. Work incentives make it possible for people with disabilities who receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income to work and still receive Medicare and Medicaid. Community Work Incentives Coordinators meet with each client and explain and assess all work incentives available to them. This allows disabled people to understand how working can affect benefits to make the transition to employment easier. These services are provided free of cost. In 2017 CIL Jacksonville launched a lunch break program. This program provides lunch for a new employee with a disability for two weeks. This increases work productivity and provides what may be the only nutritious meal they eat each day.
CIL Jacksonville is a leader in the fight for disability rights and last year provided 803 vocational services to disabled individuals (CIL, 2020). The CIL has set there goals for 2021 to provide vocational services to 200 people, to place 145 people into successful employment, to partner with 50 disability friendly business, ensure that 102 people are still employed two years after hire, and ensure that 105 people are working 30 hours per week or more (CIL, 2020). The CIL currently has clients working at many Jacksonville businesses including Publix Supermarkets, Pitney Bowes, and the Amazon Fulfillment Center.
History of Policy
There have been tremendous changes in laws, policies and attitudes towards people with disabilities since the 1900’s. These changes happened largely because disabled people demanded and created changes. Having a disability was viewed as a defect, something that prevented a person from doing “normal” activities. In the past disabled people were protected and secluded. The medical model of disability defined disability as “an infirmity that precluded equal participation in society and the ability to earn a living” (**nps.gov). In the 1960s Social Security entitlement programs were expanded to support people with disabilities. This contributed to the thinking that disabled people were incapable of employment. The disability movement, like other civil rights movements has a long history and continues to work hard to achieve equal rights.
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Organizations supporting people with disabilities have existed since the 1900s. The League of the Physically Handicapped began in the 1930s and fought for employment during the Great Depression. In the 1970s attitudes began to change and disabled people began to view themselves as a minority group and bean the fight for equal opportunity. The 1973 Rehabilitation Act specifically addressed disability discrimination and the right to work. Section 501 supports people with disabilities in federal workplaces or any place that receives federal money. Section 503 requires affirmative action, education and employment for disadvantaged minorities, which disabled people were now considered a part of. Section 504 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace, however, although these regulations were written, they were not implemented. In 1977 with the regulations still not signed the disability community got tired of waiting and demanded President Carter sign it, instead he appointed a task force to review the regulations. The recently formed American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities (ACCD) insisted the regulations be enacted by April 5, 1977 and when they were not people across the country protested with sit-ins at the offices of Health, Education and Welfare across the country. The regulations were finally signed on April 28th and marked the first time that “disability really was looked at as an issue of civil rights rather than an issue of charity and rehabilitation at best, pity at worst” (*nps.gov).
Congress had passed more than 50 pieces of legislation from the 1960s until the passage of what is considered, “the greatest legal achievement” The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 (**nps.gov). The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against people with disabilities in areas such as employment, transportation, communications, and access to federal, state and local government programs. Employment provisions in the ADA prohibit discrimination in applying, hiring, advancement, termination, training, and compensation of disabled employees. In 1992 amendments to the Rehabilitation Act mandated presumptive employability, meaning job applicants should be presumed employable and capable until proven they aren’t. Businesses began to recognize disability as a part of diversity and include it in workplace initiatives.
The Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) for College Students with Disabilities was created in 1995. This program connects driven post-secondary students and graduates with disabilities to public and private-sector employers, helping them find permanent and temporary jobs nationwide. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) program was created from The Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996. This program provided companies who hire individuals with disabilities with a federal tax credit. The Presidential Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities was created in 1998 by President Bill Clinton. The task force evaluates federal programs to determine if there are any barriers present that would prevent employment by individuals with disabilities. In the same year President Clinton signed the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act allowing disabled individuals who collect Social Security Disability Insurance and SSI benefits to “achieve financial independence through work without fear of losing needed supports” (dol, 2015).
In 2001 Congress established the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). This is a sub-cabinet agency in the Department of Labor that focuses on disability within federal labor policies. It wasn’t until 2009 that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics would add disability to the Current Population Survey (CPS). This is the first-time official government data on the employment status of people with disabilities was recorded. The Campaign for Disability Employment began in 2009. This initiative is funded by the U.S Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Positive messages and images are used to encourage employers and the public to see the value people with disabilities can bring to the workplace. The message “I Can” was shown on television and radio stations nationwide. In 2010 on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Obama signed Executive Order 13548 calling on federal departments and agencies to, “increase the recruitment, hiring and retention of people with disabilities” (DOL, 2015). The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was passed in 2014 and is the first legislative reform of the workforce system to pass in 15 years. This act changes programs to help job seekers find employment and match employers with the workers they need. It included a specific part aimed at improving circumstances for people with disabilities in the workplace.
The disabled community has worked hard to change attitudes across the general population. Perceptions of the disabled as being unable or unworthy of being employed are slowly changing. Disabled people are no longer hidden in back rooms or behind desks and counters away from people to not be seen. The idea that those with physical handicaps must also be mentally handicapped or that those with developmental or intellectual disabilities cannot work are being proven to be untrue as these people enter the workforce. Companies both public and private are beginning to see the benefits these employees provide. Disabled workers earn excellent scores for dependability, engagement, motivation, attendance and productivity from their employers (autism-society, 2018).
Being allowed the opportunity to be employed has tremendous benefits to the disabled population; a sense of purpose, the ability to contribute their skills to society, the opportunity to be financially self-sufficient, to support their families, to not be segregated and isolated, and able to participate socially and fully in life. The disabled community has fought long and hard, but the fight is not over. All the new laws, acts, and policy changes do not change the attitudinal prejudice the disabled community faces. Children born with disabilities today will benefit from laws like the ADA which help to remove the physical barriers, but work remains to be done to change attitudes and afford this population equal opportunity and societal inclusiveness.
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- Disability & Employment: A Timeline. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/featured/ada/timeline/alternative
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- Employment Services. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.theilrc.org/programs/employment-services/
- Grim, Andrew. “Sitting-in for disability rights: The Section 504 protests of the 1970s.” O Say Can You See? Stories from the National Museum of American History, July 8, 2015.
- Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm
- Quantifying the Unemployment Rate for Workers with Disabilities in Florida. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.flchamber.com/research/research-programs/quantifying-the-unemployment-rate-for-workers-with-disabilities-in-florida/
- Wehrnann, K. C., & McClain, A. (2018). Social work speaks: National Association of Social Workers policy statements, 2018-2020. Washington, D.C: NASW Press.
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