Across the U.S., state and local policymakers are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with numerous policies, programs and initiatives. From health and safety protocols to vaccination requirements to telework options, many of these policies relate to employment and have the potential to benefit workers, businesses and our economic recovery. However, when implementing these policies, it is important to ensure they are inclusive of all Americans, including individuals with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require government agencies receiving federal funding to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to persons with disabilities. However, a 2018 studyby the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation found that only 59% of state websites passed accessibility standards, while 9% of state websites were highly inaccessible.
Prior to his inauguration, President Joe Biden pledged to invest $50 billion in workforce training, including a substantial investment in the national Registered Apprenticeship Program that would “exponentially increase the number of apprenticeships in this country.” Concurrently, the House passed a bill in November — which has now received its second reading in the Senate — that would invest nearly $4 billion over five years in apprenticeship program expansion. These promises and actions at the federal level show that, in a country challenged by recession and high retirement rates, policymakers believe that apprenticeships are viable employment solutions.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of Americans who work remotely has increased from roughly 15% to 50%. The transition to telework has required everyone to adjust, but it has posed unique challenges for some people with disabilities. On December 17th, The Council of State Governments’ (CSG) National Conference session, “Telework: Adapting to the COVID-19 Economy” explored these challenges, and showcased strategies that state governments, local governments, and the private sector are using to accommodate employees with disabilities amid new telework conditions and beyond. The session also premiered CSG and the State Exchange on Employment & Disability’s new report “Disability-Inclusive Telework for States“.
Individuals with disabilities bring unique talents, skills, and perspectives to the workplace. The benefits of including more individuals with disabilities in the workforce are numerous, including higher workplace morale, a more inclusive workplace culture, improved operational performance, productivity, creativity, and profitability, and a reduction in turnover, not to mention more financial stability and other benefits to the worker with disabilities. However, sometimes employers and policymakers may not be adequately tapping into this skilled pool of employees due to a lack of knowledge on how to engage and work with individuals with disabilities.
On Nov. 3, roughly 58.6% of California residents voted to approve California Proposition 22, which classifies app-based drivers working for rideshare and delivery companies — like Uber and Lyft — as “independent contractors” instead of “employees.” Workers are only classified as employees if a company sets drivers’ hours, requires acceptance of specific ride or delivery requests or restricts working for other companies. Proposition 22 also requires rideshare and delivery companies to provide their drivers with certain minimum benefits and protections from discrimination.
This year marks two important anniversaries in our Nation’s efforts to facilitate the inclusion of people with disabilities in our workforce: the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law on July 26, 1990, and the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which seeks to enhance awareness of disability employment issues and celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. States have found various ways to commemorate these two occasions, including issuing proclamations, establishing disability awareness and mentoring days, hosting webinars and virtual events, and launching educational campaigns. Below are examples of how several states are celebrating, as well as general ideas for how state policymakers and other government officials can commemorate these landmark dates.
The event honored the lives of disability advocates who worked to make the ADA a reality, and highlighted personal stories of Alaskans with disabilities who have been impacted by the ADA (hereand here).
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear signed an executive order on June 29, 2020 to promote inclusive hiring practices of people with disabilities.
The order seeks to promote competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities through a commitment to increasing employment opportunities throughout the state, which will be carried out by the state’s Employment First Council.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive proclamation declaring October 2020 as Investing in Abilities Month in Michigan. The proclamation recognizes the efforts that various public and private disability organizations have made toward “support[ing] recognition of the abilities of all citizens.”
The proclamation also introduces events and activities that will continue to promote the employment of people with disabilities in the state. In addition, Governor Whitmer signed a proclamationin July 2020 recognizing the 30th anniversary of the ADA and declaring Michigan’s commitment to make the state inclusive to everyone.
The campaign features a Disability-Competent Care Model, which seeks to empower people with disabilities to make their own choices about their health. On September 29, 2020, a resolution was introduced to recognize the month of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month in Pennsylvania.
West Virginia celebrated the ADA’s 30th anniversary through a webinar and virtual eventthat featured people with disabilities. The webinar discussed the impacts of the ADA and its implications for the future, and was hosted by the Statewide Independent Living Council and various Independent Living centers in the state.
The ADA and NDEAM anniversaries provide states an opportunity to re-affirm their commitments to accessibility, workplace accommodations, and equal opportunities for people with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) suggests a variety of ways to celebrate, including:
Signing proclamations to honor NDEAM and the ADA.
ODEP has provided templatesto follow, which serve to affirm a city, county, or state’s commitment to creating “an inclusive community that increases access and opportunities to all, including individuals with disabilities.”
Signing an executive order establishing a time-limited task force to develop an action plan for expanding and improving state employment policy to make it more inclusive of people with disabilities.
The State Exchange on Employment & Disability has created a draft of an executive order that states can use to launch State as Model Employer Programs (SAME), private sector engagement, and disability-owned businesses, which seek to enhance the employment of people with disabilities in the state.
Sample executive orders can be found under the “Sample Legislative Action” section on the CSG Disability Employment Policy Portfolio webpage.
Conducting social media campaigns.
Consider highlighting the PSA series and other content produced by The Campaign for Disability Employment, which “challenge misconceptions about the employment of people with disabilities and reinforce the roles we all play in fostering an inclusive workforce that benefits everyone.”
Various states and entities participate in Disability Mentoring Day, a large-scale effort that connects youth with disabilities to mentors and career exploration opportunities. Originally observed on the third Wednesday of each October, the event can be celebrated at any time (or even year-round).
Holding a Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day.
Legislative Disabilities Awareness Days provide an opportunity for state legislators to discuss disability rights and advance bills that improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities. The New York State Assemblyoffers one model to follow.
For state technical assistant and/or more information on the ADA and State as a Model Employer (SAME), please contact Dina Klimkina, Program Manager of the CSG Disability Employment Policy Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the coronavirus pandemic temporarily curtailed many businesses’ in-person operations, layoffs and furloughs were quick to follow. Although the permanency of these layoffs is still unclear, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that job losses throughout the pandemic culminated in an unemployment rate of nearly 14.7% by the end of April. Of the positions lost, approximately 950,000 were previously held by workers with disabilities, putting the unemployment rate among these workers at 20%.
The State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED), an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), assists states in developing effective and inclusive workforce policies that promote disability employment. Recognizing that every state is unique, SEED offers policy options and resources that states can tailor to meet their individual needs and goals. To this end, SEED partners with leading intermediary organizations that serve as trusted sources of information to state and local policymakers.