Workers with Disabilities On the Rise

Americans with disabilities are experiencing unprecedented employment growth, signifying a shift in public policy and culture that benefits individuals, businesses and the community. According to research from the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire and the nonprofit advocacy group RespectAbility, 343,183 individuals with disabilities entered the workforce in 2016—a four-fold increase from the year before.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five (56 million) Americans identify as having a disability, making them the largest minority group and an untapped workforce resource. Illinois currently ranks 30th in the nation for employment of members of the disabled community, with 242,783 of the 679,862 working-age people with disabilities reporting employment—an increase of 9,550 from the previous year. The state can further improve its 35.7-percent employment rate for this demographic by focusing on initiatives that support individuals with disabilities, such as improving high school graduation rates, increasing tax incentives for hiring, and mandating accessible transportation.

Experts suggest this rise in employment is caused by a combination of factors, including more positive representations of people with disabilities in the media, more accessible technologies, and legislation like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, which ensures comparable wages and benefits and promotes full integration alongside colleagues without disabilities.

Employing individuals with disabilities isn’t about charity—it empowers them to earn an income and gain independence while actually increasing a business’s bottom line. Walgreens has demonstrated leadership in this area, reporting 900 employees and 1,300 in training who identified as having disabilities in 2016. Their goal is to have 25 percent of their workforce consist of people with disabilities, because they’ve found this group has higher productivity, lower rates of absenteeism and turnover, and a better safety record than employees without disabilities, as reported in the Christian Science Monitor.

Locally, organizations like the Community Workshop & Training Center (CWTC), Easterseals, EP!C, Peoria Production Shop, Association for the Developmentally Disabled of Woodford County (ADDWC) and Tazewell County Resource Center (TCRC) are all working to strengthen employment opportunities for the disabled community in central Illinois. They provide services like vocational training, employee development and job placement within the community, or offer on-site employment at recycling, packaging and assembly facilities.

People with intellectual or physical disabilities have a wide range of skillsets in a variety of industries; matching their abilities to a business’s needs is important for long-term, successful hiring. Hy-Vee, Caterpillar, Anytime Fitness, Kroger, Advanced Medical Transport, Build-a-Bear Workshop and Residence Inn are just a few of the local businesses providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. iBi

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