Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Labor Day, Work should be about Abilities!

For nearly 130 years, Labor Day has been a national celebration of the “contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country!” The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City. Some twelve years later, Congress passed legislation designating the first Monday in September of each year as a federal holiday. 1

The U.S. Department of Labor’s website states, “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

Labor Day 2010 was designated as “The State of the American Worker” complete with striking speeches by President Obama, DOL Secretary Hilda Solis and many others across the country. In her online video, Secretary Solis said that the American worker wants “an American that produces things again…a nation that is strong…that leads the international marketplace in innovation and a commitment to quality…and [we need] jobs!”

With ailing economy, employment is something that is important to every single American. But aside from all the accomplishments of the American worker – and once all the Labor Day celebrations have passed – one striking statistic remains: unemployment of people with disabilities in America is staggering!

In August 2010, the percentage of people with disabilities in the labor force was 22.0. By comparison, the percentage of persons with no disability in the labor force was 70.2. The unemployment rate for those with disabilities was 15.6 percent, compared with 9.3 percent for persons with no disability, not seasonally adjusted. 2

Despite wanting to work, as well as being able to offer their unique perspective to the workforce, nearly 8 out of 10 Americans with disabilities are not working. So it begs the question, how can America lead the international marketplace in innovation and commitment to quality when there are literally millions of diverse, talented potential workers being denied the opportunity simply because of their disability? Shouldn’t every American be provided an opportunity to fulfill one of the single most important responsibilities expected of us – and that is work?

[Photo: Platte County Board of Services for the Developmentally Disabled]

This isn’t a new problem. And it’s not a problem that has been ignored – evidenced by numerous federal initiatives to provide meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities, including, but not limited to the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act (JWOD), Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Ticket-to-Work & Self-Sufficiency Act. The federal government has also created tax incentives for businesses to hire employees with disabilities, offered comprehensive resources about workplace accommodations for employers, and provided high quality online information and technical assistance to promote the inclusion of employees with disabilities in the workplace.

Only by EVERY American – regardless of their ability, or disability – contributing their talents to the American workforce can our economy thrive and achieve the economic boom of decades past. The Campaign for Disability Employment is promoting that message, because “at work, it’s what people can do that matters.”

Resources, training and support exist in nearly every community nationwide. Community nonprofit agencies – such as Goodwills, Easter Seals, Jewish Vocational Services, and UCPs – have lead the way for decades by opening doors that otherwise would have been closed for so many people with significant disabilities seeking employment opportunities. Through their dedication and commitment, many people with disabilities have lived more independently and made important contributions to their communities.

Corporate America understands the value of disability diversity in the workplace. Business Leadership Networks exist across the United States. Businesses join BLNs “to expand their diversity recruiting efforts to include people with disabilities – not as a social model but as a business case to recruit talent and better serve their customers.”

With the ongoing military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, more and more of our men and women in uniform are returning to American as “wounded warriors” in need of job training skills. According to DOL, “Some Service Members return home with injuries that may not be visible, but can impact daily life, including employment. The changing nature of combat today has caused a sharp increase in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which are increasingly recognized as the signature injuries of the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

So as our nation rebounds from the Great Recession, and America’s economy begins to flourish again it is important that people with disabilities play a fundamental role in our recovery. Why? Again, because “We” includes everyone – regardless of their ability, or disability!

We have joined, will you? Learn more at http://www.wemovement.org/.


1. U.S. Department of Labor, “The History of Labor Day,” September 2010.

2. U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, “August Disability Employment Statistics,” September 2010.

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