Illinois is home to more than one million people of working age with disabilities. These neighbors, friends and relatives too often face disproportionate challenges when it comes to being self-sufficient and meeting their life goals. As a result, only 35 percent of adults with disabilities participate in the workforce, compared with 79 percent of those without disabilities. In addition, those with disabilities experience the highest rate of poverty in the country.
I firmly believe in the principle of “everybody in, no one left out”, and have taken significant steps to reduce barriers for people with disabilities to achieve the goals of integrated community living and employment. During my administration the state has closed outdated institutions, moved thousands of people with disabilities out of nursing homes and embraced a model of community supports and services. In 2012, I made a commitment that the state of Illinois would place a priority on hiring people with disabilities. The Illinois Employment First Act and my subsequent Employment First Executive Order require state agencies to support competitive and integrated employment for persons with disabilities of working age.
We are calling on Illinois employers to Think Beyond the Label in considering employment of people with disabilities. The state of Illinois, as an organization that employs more than 40,000 individuals, models the kind of change we want to see when creating jobs for Illinoisans who want to work. Illinois is uniquely positioned to lead the nation in the recruitment, hiring and retention of workers with disabilities.
This is why I’m putting forward Illinois’ vision for Employment First in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. People with disabilities bring a perspective to the workforce that promotes innovation. If you want to inject innovation into your workforce, start tapping the largest minority population in Illinois – people with disabilities.
As Lieutenant Governor, I had the honor of meeting Chris Lake, a 24-year-old advocate for persons with disabilities. Unable to speak without a computer-assisted device and wheelchair-bound, Chris was a man of keen intellect, playful wit and uncommon drive. I hired Chris to work in the Lieutenant Governor’s office, where he excelled in every project, while helping other employees understand the challenges faced by persons with disabilities. When he passed away in 2008, Illinois had lost a champion who uplifted our workplace and sent a strong message to the disability community. This is a lesson I want to share with all employers.
I believe that if employers want someone who thinks outside the box, they should hire someone who lives outside the box. All Illinoisans deserve a chance at economic security. My Employment First Initiative makes sure that people with disabilities get that chance.
Note: This post has been archived without comments.