People with disabilities scored a major victory in the economic stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama.
The action is the result of efforts by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Enable America, a non-profit organization based in Tampa that is dedicated to increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
"For the first time persons with disabilities have been especially included in a bill of this magnitude," said Richard Salem, founder of Enable America. "It is an extraordinary development, and we applaud the Congress for the recognition given to the importance of persons with disabilities in the workplace as a part of diversity programs and the need for self-sufficiency and independence."
Initial drafts of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act required that women and minority owned businesses be given consideration when stimulus contracts are awarded, but contained no mention of businesses owned and operated by people with disabilities. Senator Harkin's office submitted the language that was ultimately included in the legislation.
The provision is designed to aid a segment of the workforce that has an employment rate far lower than that of the general population. According to Cornell University's 2007 Disability Status Report, only 37% of people with disabilities are employed as opposed to 80% of people without a disability. In all, there are more than 9 million Americans with disabilities who are able and want to work, but do not.
"Employers have discovered that people with disabilities strengthen their workforce," said Enable America Executive Director Susan Wood. "They are skilled and efficient, and that ultimately improves the bottom line. In addition, by including people with disabilities in their hiring plans, employers create a workforce that resembles the communities where they do business. These benefits, combined with the direction provided in the stimulus bill, should encourage more employers to hire people with disabilities. It just makes good business sense."
Reference: Enable America was founded by Salem in 2002. It is the first organization dedicated solely to increasing employment among people with disabilities. For more information, contact Enable America at www.enableamerica.org