Today, July 26, is the anniversary of the signing in 1990 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In recognition of the spirit of the Act, we are pleased to recommit to the important work of making our programs inclusive and accessible to all.
Disability is part of the human experience, and one of the variables that contribute to the rich diversity of our nation. Disability is not a static condition—people can experience a disability from birth, or develop a disability as a result of genetics, aging, or trauma. Disability does not discriminate—anyone can acquire a disability, at any time. Individuals with disabilities are neighbors, teachers, community leaders, and parents. They are workers, managers, corporate CEOs, and healthcare providers. Individuals with disabilities can and do participate in all realms of work, and their strong participation is vital to our economic growth.
According to the American Community Survey, in 2014, the resident population in the United States was estimated to be approximately 319.9 million individuals; and of this, approximately 31.9 million individuals have some kind of disability, including both apparent and non-apparent disabilities. Yet individuals with disabilities still face barriers to full, family-sustaining employment.
On June 21, 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics. The data on persons with a disability are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that provides statistics on employment and unemployment in the United States. Based on this report, in 2015, 17.5 percent of persons with a disability were employed. The unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 10.7 percent in 2015, compared to 5.1 percent for those without a disability. Some key findings (and where to find them in the report) include:
- Among all educational attainment groups, unemployment rates were higher for persons with a disability than for those without a disability. (Table 1)
- Persons with a disability are less likely to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher than those with no disability. (Table 1)
- Across all levels of education, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than were their counterparts without a disability. (Table 1)
- Thirty-two percent of workers with a disability were employed part-time, compared with 18 percent for those without a disability. (Table 2)
- Persons with a disability were more heavily concentrated in service occupations than those without a disability (21.7 percent compared with 17.2 percent) and less likely to work in management, professional, and related occupations than those without a disability (31.3 percent compared with 39.2 percent). (Table 3)
- The jobless rate was higher for minorities with a disability (17.4 percent for Blacks and 13.3 percent for Hispanics) than among Whites (9.6 percent) and Asians (7.4 percent). (Table 1)
Inclusion of individuals with disabilities cannot be an afterthought. We—the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the U.S Department of Labor (DOL), the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)/the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), and the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and our grantees— will continue to consider the experiences of individuals with disabilities, be intentional about including disability in our policy and program documents, incorporate universal design in our service delivery strategies, and continue to be inclusive in our use of language. Moreover, we will continue to ensure that youth and adults with disabilities can access our education, training, and workforce programs and successfully complete them. We will work closely with America’s employers and our local partners in the workforce development system to ensure physical, programmatic, and employment access across the board. Finally, we must continue to actively foster a culture in which individuals are supported and accepted for who they are, without fear of discrimination based on disability.
In full support of this call to action, we will make improvements to the programs we are responsible for administering in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and complementary programs that affect the opportunities of individuals with disabilities. We will strengthen alignment and find new ways to provide better services to more people through close collaboration at the national, state, local, and tribal levels among our respective programs.
Significant work is already under way. OSERS/RSA, and OCTAE will soon release technical assistance resources focused on expanding access and support for individuals with disabilities in education programs under WIOA—especially through career pathways, a model endorsed by 12 federal agencies. DOL’s ODEP, ETA, and Civil Rights Center have issued a set of best practices for physical and programmatic accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, we are gathering concrete examples of promising practices, partnerships, and interventions offered by core and partner programs under WIOA. We are seeking examples of innovations focused on changing the prospects of youth and adults with disabilities, for possible inclusion in the resources. If you are aware of such efforts, please tell us about them either by emailing us at email@example.com. In particular, we are interested in your answers to the following questions:
- How are the WIOA core and partner programs in your community creating a welcoming environment for people with visible and hidden disabilities?
- How are the WIOA core and partner programs in your community ensuring that American Job Centers and career workforce education and training services are accessible to individuals with disabilities?
- How are the WIOA core and partner programs in your community using data to effectively identify individuals with disabilities, determine customized interventions, and monitor the effectiveness of your supports?
- How are the WIOA core and partner programs using multiple funding sources to assure that individuals with disabilities have the services and supports needed to succeed?
- Can you share examples of promising career pathways programs that are improving outcomes for individuals with disabilities?
We are always looking for innovative ways to expand opportunities for individuals with disabilities through demonstration grants. Here are two key examples:
- ED has recently initiated a five-year, $3.5 million per year Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities (CPID) model demonstration program in Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Virginia. The purpose of the program is to demonstrate replicable promising practices in the use of career pathways: to enable VR-eligible individuals with disabilities, including youth with disabilities; to acquire marketable skills and recognized postsecondary credentials; and, to secure competitive integrated employment in high-demand, high-quality occupations. Program activities are being designed and implemented in partnership with secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, American Job Centers, workforce training providers, social and human service organizations, employers, and other Federal career pathways initiatives.
- The DOL’s Disability Employment Initiative (DEI) expands the capacity of the workforce system to improve the education, training, and employment outcomes of youth and adults with disabilities, and uses a career pathway framework to increase opportunities. DEI is funded jointly by ETA and ODEP; these agencies published a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for a seventh round of these grants for state workforce agencies on June 27, 2016. The FOA can be found at grants.gov and it closes August 1, 2016. We encourage states to apply. The newest grantees will be announced in the coming weeks.
As a nation, we must continue to promote inclusion and to break down the barriers that remain—in hearts, in minds, in habits, and in policies—to the security and prosperity that stable jobs provide and that all people deserve. Thank you for your partnership in this important work.
Johan E. Uvin is the Deputy Assistant Secretary, delegated the duties of the Assistant Secretary, for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.
Sue Swenson is the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
Janet L. LaBreck is the Commissioner for the Rehabilitation Services Administration.
Portia Wu is the Assistant Secretary for the Employment Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Gerri Fiala is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Employment Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Jennifer Sheehy is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.
 Educational attainment data are presented for those age 25 and over.