The unemployment of Minnesotans with disabilities who can and want to work is at an unacceptable rate of 50%. Minnesota must reduce this alarming statistic and dramatically increase the employment opportunities and self-sufficiency of its citizens with disabilities. This can only be accomplished by delivering workforce development programs to Minnesotans with disabilities in 21st Century ways that meet two needs: 1) job seekers with disabilities and 2) employers.
Minnesota’s long-term labor shortage is a threat to our economic future. For starters, one has only to consider the retiring baby boomers. Employers in Minnesota will need skilled, qualified, and reliable people to perform a variety of jobs. Studies reveal that 87% of employers who have hired people with disabilities would encourage others to do likewise.
The Disability Institute’s publication “Better Jobs, Brighter Futures” reported that stereotypical attitudes toward and low expectations of people with disabilities are fundamental barriers and obstacles to increasing the competitive employment of this population. Due to yesterday’s thinking, people with disabilities still face poor education and training. Unfortunately, much of our state’s workforce development programs reflect these outdated notions.
The timing is perfect for overhauling Minnesota’s employment and training system:
· New laws are on the books, for the first time, that provide employment incentives for people with disabilities
· Major advances in medicine and technology offer unprecedented opportunities
· Studies repeatedly show that the overwhelming majority of unemployed people with disabilities want to work
· Minnesota has unparalleled existing resources and expertise that can be utilized and coordinated
According to Wendy Brower, Executive Director of The Disability Institute, “People with disabilities want to be valued, supported, welcomed, and respected. They want to contribute in meaningful ways, feel better about themselves, and live up to their potential.” She further stated, “People with disabilities want better employment opportunities and simply do not want jobs that someone else decides are ‘suitable’ for them. People with disabilities should be viewed as solutions to Minnesota’s labor force challenges.”