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A Critical Time for National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Graphic features a female WorkFirst participant with text that says National Disability Employment Awareness Month

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change our world and workplace, it is more critical than ever before that we discuss the challenges facing the disability community in the pursuit of meaningful employment.This year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme, “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion”, aims to highlight the growing workforce disparity between persons with a disability and those without, while emphasizing the importance of inclusion in the restoration of the American economy.

While the pandemic has created new challenges and obstacles for us all, it has uniquely impacted individuals with a disability. Prior to 2020, the disability community was already experiencing unemployment at a much higher rate than individuals without a disability.

The Pandemic Has Escalated The Disability Employment Disparity

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that persons with disabilities were significantly less likely to be employed than those with no disabilities. In 2020, the unemployment rate – a metric that reflects individuals actively looking for employment over a four-week period -- grew to 12.6 percent for individuals with a disability, a 5.3 percent increase over the year prior.

The unemployment rate for persons without a disability increased by only 4.4 percentage points to 7.9 percent in 2020. The increase in the unemployment rate for the disability community is even larger for women and people of color. For women with a disability, the unemployment rate is 13.2 percent. For Hispanics with a disability, the unemployment rate is 16.3 percent. Even more distressing, a study conducted by the Special Olympics reported that individuals with intellectual disabilities have a 21% unemployment rate.  

An Opportunity for this Challenging Time

The COVID-19 pandemic has given organizations the opportunity to re-evaluate their workplace. In this time where discussions on remote versus hybrid versus in-person workplaces loom large, we urge organizations of all sizes to add workplace accessibility and equitable hiring into the conversation. This is a moment where we can shift to diverse workplaces and tap into the wide array of skills and expertise the disability community has to offer the American workforce.

So where does this shift towards an equitable workplace begin? For employers, this often starts with education. Easterseals Southern California’s WorkFirst service--which provides one-on-one, customized employment support services to individuals who are interested in finding and maintaining paid work--aims to not only prepare prospective employees seeking new roles, but also to educate co-workers and the community at large about the contributions people with disabilities bring to the workforce.

As we work alongside organizations of all sizes, we encourage employers to see the capability of their candidates. Along with ensuring accessible options are available for employees and customers, this shift can make a tremendous difference in the employment of the disability community. It positively impacts the workplace, and heightened accessibility and disability inclusion is just good business.

Recently, Return on Disability reported that the size of the disability market is 1.85 billion people with an estimated $1.9 trillion in annual disposable income. As this year’s theme suggests, inclusivity truly is the key to the restoration of American businesses.

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change the work environment, we encourage organizations of all sizes to use this time to restructure their workplace with accessibility and inclusion in mind. As we look to the future, it is clear that there is no economic restoration or development of an equitable workforce without the intentional inclusion of people with disabilities.

To learn more about WorkFirst, visit our webpage.

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