Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Idaho’s citizens with disabilities want to work

There are 99,100 working age people with disabilities (between the ages of 21 to 64) in Idaho. However, only 36.7 percent of them are employed. This leads to poverty, powerlessness and worse. The problem is magnified for the 7,100 young people between the ages of 16 to 20 in Idaho who have disabilities. Most of them want a job – not to sit for decades on their parents’ couches collecting government benefits, experiencing isolation, while their talents go unused.

People with disabilities in Idaho are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than those without disabilities, and 50,000 are living on government benefits. Some are in end of life situations, but most want to work.

The Idaho Division of Vocational Rehabilitation has been working to help people in Idaho with disabilities climb the ladder to success. In 2014, their efforts helped 1,978 individuals with disabilities to obtain, maintain or retain employment. But they could have done much more. Sadly, however, the state of Idaho returned $736,206 to Washington that could have been used to help people with disabilities achieve independence and a better quality of life.

Gov. Butch Otter has signed legislation amending the language of the Idaho code to eliminate discriminatory language. However, sending money to Washington that could have given people with disabilities a hand up to independence has cost Idahoans with disabilities opportunities. It kept more of them on government benefits as well.

Academic studies have confirmed that overall, people think that folks with disabilities are incompetent. One outcome of those stigmas is that many employers deny people with disabilities the opportunity to work and achieve the American dream. But the stigmas are false.

Most people with disabilities also have, or can develop, wonderful talents. People like Frank Barham, scientist Stephen Hawkins, the newly elected governor of Texas Greg Abbott and others are all mobility impaired. But they are also extremely talented.

Federal contractors including Battelle Memorial Institute, Sunshine Minting, CH2M Hill Companies, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, Record Steel and Construction have 503 obligations to hire some people with disabilities. Some are doing more than others. However, smart employers are doing it on their own because it’s good for the business bottom line.

Walgreens, Ernst & Young, Lowes and other companies have found that people with disabilities can be exceptionally talented and loyal employees. Locally Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur d’Alene is training young people with disabilities for employment.

Hiring the best people for the job – including those who happen to have one disability or another – is a win-win-win formula for employers, taxpayers and people with disabilities alike.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the president of www.RespectAbilityUSA.org, a nonprofit organization that works to enable people with disabilities to achieve the American dream. She is working with governors around the country to create solutions for people with disabilities, employers and taxpayers alike.

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