Confronting unemployment rates for individuals with disabilities

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Individuals with disabilities have been historically underserved, underrepresented, and the programs to address their needs underfunded.

According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics the national unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is nearly twice that of those without disabilities and their workforce participation is nearly three times less. Note: This is accounting for only the noninstitutional population of ages 16 or older. Due to lack of employment opportunities and disproportionately high costs of living, over 1 in 4 individuals with disabilities live in poverty.

Individuals with disabilities face barriers to employment that range from misconceptions of their true abilities to fears that accommodations would pose too high of a financial burden to the company. Therefore, many employers simply refuse to hire individuals with disabilities. The fact is however, that many individuals with disabilities are highly capable and the majority of accommodations could be made at minimal to no cost.

In 2006 St. Paul set a disability hiring goal of 10%, but a recent Minnesota Public Radio article exposed that less than 1% of employees identify as disabled. Despite establishing the goal St. Paul did not collect data and was unaware of just how short it had really fallen until last year.

Thankfully, this general trend has begun to change and disability advocates have applauded some recent employment policy devleoments in Minnesota. In St. Paul, a committee will report in the fall on how to redirect focus to include individuals with disabilities into the workforce. Likewise, the University of Minnesota has increased its goal to contract businesses owned by individuals with disabilities by 3%. In addition, the Minnesota State Legislature recently passed a bill directing an additional $2 million to aid individuals with disabilities in employment opportunities.

There is still a lot more work to be done before individuals with disabilities will be offered equal employment opportunity, but these recent changes are certainly a step in the right direction.