Other Voices

ADA anniversary: Disabled Texans want to work

Thanks to former President George H.W. Bush, we have marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Since Bush signed the landmark law on July 26, 1990, architecture has improved so that wheelchair users, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, can access public buildings.

Yet only four out of 10 of Texas’ 1.6 million working-age people with disabilities are employed. This lack of opportunity creates poverty and powerlessness and increases the likelihood of developing mental health conditions.

One in five Americans has a disability, and a recent Kessler Foundation survey shows that most working-age people with disabilities are striving to work.

While persistent stigmas remain an obstacle, the evidence proves that people with disabilities can be highly successful workers.

For example, Virgin Airways founder Sir Richard Branson and finance wizard Charles Schwab are dyslexic. Scientist Stephen Hawking, like Abbott and President Franklin D. Roosevelt before them, are wheelchair users.

Today in Texas 107,000 youths with disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 20, are preparing to enter the workforce.

They have high expectations and deserve the same opportunities to achieve the American dream as anyone else.

Young people with disabilities may simply need some thoughtful help to transition into the workforce.

People who are blind, deaf or nonverbal frequently use assistive technology. Similarly, people with intellectual disabilities can benefit greatly from internship opportunities and job coaches.

Comcast, Ernst & Young LLC, Lockheed Martin, Sprint and other companies have seen that people with disabilities can be extremely capable and loyal workers.

Vocational rehabilitation programs in Texas helped 13,200 people with disabilities find work in 2012, the year with the most recent data. However, they can do much more in the future.

Under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Abbott can bring together the divisions of government so that education, transportation, workforce development, healthcare and other departments collaborate to enable people with disabilities to obtain jobs and careers.

Texas is taking steps in the right direction.

For example, in 2013, Texas created the Texas Employment First Policy and Texas Employment First Task Force Report. It promotes employment as the preferred option for working-age Texans with disabilities and establishes the interagency task force to inspire integrated employment.

The act acknowledges that people with disabilities can handle the same employment standards, responsibilities and expectations as non-disabled working adults.

The task force will also enhance employment services for Texans with disabilities.

But much more must be done. Texas taxpayers should focus on cost-effective programs such as public-private-philanthropic partnerships, along with programs such as Project SEARCH and Bridges to Work.

These continue to achieve exceptional results for employers, people with disabilities and taxpayers alike.

Employment First policies are a good starting point, but more is needed.

As a person with a disability who also knows what it means to parent a child with multiple disabilities, I know the importance of work.

People with disabilities deserve the opportunity to achieve the dignity, friendships, income and purpose that jobs provide.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the president of www.RespectAbilityUSA.org. JenniferM@RespectAbilityUSA.org