A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities

By , March 26, 2013

A Message from Delaware Governor Jack Markell

Finding a job can be a life-changing experience, especially for people with disabilities. Even though more and more businesses are realizing the benefits of this diverse talent pool, people with disabilities still face additional challenges to accessing the job market – from a public disability system not optimally designed to promote employment to a lack of awareness about the costs and benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities.

Today, only 21 percent of people with disabilities are working or looking for a job, compared with 69 percent of the rest of the population, even though two-thirds of working-age adults with disabilities would rather be working than unemployed.

I have seen firsthand the positive impact that gainful employment in the competitive labor market can have not only on the well-being of these individuals, but on a business’ bottom line. That is why, as chair of the National Governors Association (NGA), I have chosen to focus my year-long initiative on A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities. The initiative focuses on the role that businesses and state government can play in advancing employment opportunities in the private-sector for people with disabilities.

Since the initiative began in July, NGA has hosted meetings and roundtables with dozens of experts in the disability employment field to learn two things and answer these two questions: what is working, and what is the path forward?

These conversations yielded insights from diverse perspectives, spanning the advocacy community, government, academia, business and self-advocates. I learned three key things from the conversations. One, employers do not care about labels; they care about skills. People with disabilities need to be part of the mainstream workforce, right alongside people without disabilities. Two, when businesses hire people with disabilities, the benefit shows up on their bottom line and improvements in their culture. This is true for small businesses as well as large national corporations. It’s true for the entire spectrum of industries – from services to manufacturing. And three, the path forward is one of shared responsibility – it is a path that business, government and families are going to chart together.

NGA is continuing to gather best practices, which we will share with governors and states throughout the spring and summer. In particular, we will convene key state leaders and their business partners at two policy institutes on the east and west coasts to inform them about the benefits and realities of employing individuals with disabilities, provide them the opportunity to share with and learn from their peers from other states and prompt them to initiate action in their respective states. The initiative will culminate in August with a framework for governors to carry the initiative forward at the state level.

The success stories showcased by Think Beyond the Label are a testament to the progress we are making. I ask you—businesses, self-advocates, practitioners, family members—to continue to “think beyond the label” by spreading the word that employing people with disabilities is not only the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. Together, we can make a difference so that individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Author: Jack Markell

Since Delaware Governor Jack Markell took office in 2009, he has worked to create and keep jobs in the state. He currently serves as chair of the National Governors Association; in this role, his year-long initiative is "A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities."