December 19, 2018

Californians with disabilities want to work

It’s the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, historic landmark legislation meant to ensure the civil rights of people who have disabilities. Since the ADA was passed, architecture and infrastructure have improved, yet attitudes and opportunities have not. Today there are many ramps to get into buildings, but far fewer to get into jobs.

Only 3 out of 10 of California’s 1,793,900 working-age people with disabilities are employed. This creates poverty, powerlessness and poor health. People who have disabilities want and deserve the opportunity to have the dignity, friendships, income and purpose that jobs and careers provide.

An estimated 1 in 5 Americans has a disability. The good news is that evidence shows that people with disabilities can be highly successful workers. For example, Virgin Airways founder Richard Branson and finance wizard Charles Schwab are dyslexic. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas uses a wheelchair, as did President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Today in California, 115,600 youths with disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 20, are preparing to enter the labor market. They have high expectations and deserve the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. Young people with disabilities may simply need some thoughtful help to transition into the workforce.

People who are blind, deaf or non-verbal frequently use assistive technology. Similarly, people with developmental 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 California helped 11,187 people with disabilities find work in 2012. It’s not good enough.

Under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, which I voted for, Gov. Jerry Brown can further break down the silos between the branches of government so that education, transportation, workforce development, health care and other departments work together with employers to create strategies to enable people to obtain jobs and careers. He has access to a large pool of funds from the federal government that he can use to enable people with disabilities in California to get jobs.

Project SEARCH and Bridges to Work continue to produce outstanding results for employers, people with disabilities, and taxpayers around the country. Project SEARCH California has become one of the largest and most successful programs for integrating people with disabilities into the workforce by building relationships between the private and public sectors. By expanding such programs, California can enable people with disabilities to get jobs and careers. It’s a win-win-win for people with disabilities, employers and taxpayers alike.

Rep. Brad Sherman has represented California interests in Congress since 1997.