Expanding access to education, training, and high-quality employment opportunities for people with disabilities is a bipartisan priority for Governors. Governors play a key role in helping to expand inclusivity in the workforce and leading their states in developing policy and programs that provide economic opportunity for people with disabilities.
The National Governors Association is a proud partner in the State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED), a unique state-federal collaboration facilitated by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy to support state and local governments in adopting and implementing inclusive policies and best practices that lead to increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and a stronger, more inclusive American workforce and economy.
“I am proud of the way that Connecticut has been a leader in protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities when it comes to employment issues, and particularly proud of the many businesses throughout our state that make every effort to include people of all abilities as valued members of their workforces. We are at our strongest when we include people of all abilities in our workplaces, and it benefits the entire economy to make sure opportunities and resources are available for everyone.”
“Ensuring every Alabamian has the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families remains a top priority for me. People with disabilities have successfully performed at every level, and it’s imperative that we continue to promote the abilities of all Alabamians.”
“All New Jerseyans deserve equal access to community supports and opportunities. Prioritizing the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the workplace is a critical step forward in ensuring that our state is stronger and fairer for everyone.”
“Now more than ever, there is a high demand to recruit, hire and retain quality employees across the state. People of all abilities are needed in our workforce as we continue to see our economy grow. I’m proud of the work our state agencies and private partners are doing to prepare people with disabilities for employment and engage businesses across the state.”
Expanding access to education, training, and high-quality employment opportunities for people with disabilities has long been a bipartisan priority for Governors. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed many new barriers and challenges for workers with disabilities and has also amplified and accelerated many trends previously affecting the future of work and workers. Meanwhile, the expansion of telework and a heightened awareness around workplace safety as a result of the pandemic pose opportunities to explore new ways to expand inclusivity in the workforce. As Governors lead their states through recovery, they should ensure workforce recovery efforts–and the workforce system more broadly–are deliberately inclusive of people with disabilities through four key objectives:
- Understanding the role of the disability employment ecosystem in supporting economic recovery and preparing for the future of work
- Defining a successful disability employment ecosystem and measuring key outcomes
- Coordinating efforts to support positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities
- Ensuring sustained progress in expanding high-quality employment opportunities for people with disabilities
This guide describes how Governors can – through a collaborative planning process – convene key stakeholders to accomplish each of these objectives and provides examples of state actions that may serve as best practices. Appendix A provides an action planning template key stakeholders can use to guide the collaborative process described in this guide.
More than half of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime and may experience associated barriers to entering and maintaining employment. At a time when nearly every sector of the economy is struggling with workforce shortages, Governors and private sector leaders are prioritizing worker mental health to improve both individual and statewide economic resilience. During the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Winter 2023 Workforce Symposium, the National Association of State Workforce Board Chairs and the National Association of State Liaisons for Workforce Development Partnerships – affiliate networks of the NGA Center for Best Practices – heard from public- and private-sector leaders about strategies to improve worker mental health. Moderated by Marianne Gibson, Program Director for Substance Use and Mental Health at the NGA Center for Best Practices, the panel featured Assistant Secretary of Labor Taryn Williams from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy; Elisabeth Arenales, Senior Policy Advisor to Colorado Governor Jared Polis; and Anne Oxrider, Senior Vice President and Benefits Executive at Bank of America. The conversation highlighted Governors’ leadership to support worker mental health and surfaced three key strategies for state workforce systems to better serve workers with mental and behavioral health conditions: foster interagency coordination; leverage private sector best practices and partnerships; and grow the behavioral health workforce.
The unemployment rate among the one in four American adults living with a disability is more than double the unemployment rate of people without a disability. Barriers to training and employment contribute to a 38% labor force participation rate for people with a disability compared to 78% for people without a disability. Workforce shortages require Governors and policymakers to engage previously untapped talent, especially among underserved populations, including people with disabilities, to develop resilient pipelines that meet current and future labor force demands and provide equitable access to employment and economic opportunity.
Building inclusive apprenticeship programs for people with disabilities is a proven strategy that can lead to strong wages, a pathway to future career opportunities and sustainable permanent employment in high-quality jobs. States can work to expand access to apprenticeships for workers with disabilities to develop a more diverse, skilled workforce through strategies including: developing pre-apprenticeship programs and providing wraparound supports; leveraging the state’s role as a model employer; and educating employers about the benefits of sponsoring apprentices with disabilities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime, and the COVID-19 pandemic only exposed and heightened these challenges. Many Americans living with mental and behavioral health conditions often experience associated barriers to entering and maintaining employment, such as challenges with workplace communication and inability to complete physical tasks. Yet over one-third of Americans live in an area with a shortage of qualified mental health professionals. A lack of psychiatrists, clinical social workers, therapists and other healthcare workers severely limits a state’s ability to serve workers experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions that affect their well-being and performance in the workplace. As states struggle with workforce shortages across sectors, supporting workers with mental and behavioral health barriers as they reenter the workforce is critical to both individual and statewide economic resilience.
Governors and state policymakers have an opportunity to develop short- and long-term solutions to address this shortage and better serve workers facing these barriers to employment. Leveraging partnerships between state and community partners, these strategies empower states to identify their workforce demands and gaps, invest in training and career pathways for a sustainable talent pipeline, and explore more rapid solutions to meet the most urgent workforce needs in this field.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected many who have historically faced significant barriers to employment, including people with disabilities, compounding the economic hardships many with disabilities faced before the pandemic. Traditionally, people with disabilities face persistently lower rates of employment and earn significantly lower wages compared to their peers without disabilities. The 2018 American Community Survey found that only 36 percent of people with disabilities were employed, compared to 77 percent of the total population. According to a 2019 Census Bureau report, workers with disabilities earn only two-thirds as much as the average worker without a disability. In addition to the increased health risk associated with the pandemic and increased risk of exposure in many in-person workplaces, people with disabilities have been confronted with lost wages, job loss and long-term unemployment. Governors and state policymakers must understand these impacts on people with disabilities and ensure that the economic recovery is inclusive of all Americans.
Webinar: Promoting Employment for People with Disabilities through Statewide Coordination (August 2021)
Promoting high-quality employment and training opportunities for people with disabilities has long been a priority for governors, state agency leaders and state legislators. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed many new barriers and challenges for workers with disabilities, and has amplified and accelerated many trends that were already leading to rapid changes for work, workers and workplaces. To promote a strong and equitable recovery, state leaders can work together to ensure that their workforce development ecosystems and economic recovery agendas are inclusive of and effective for people with disabilities. In this webinar, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, National Conference of State Legislatures and Council of State Governments discuss how state leaders can facilitate statewide coordination to center disability employment in workforce recovery efforts and share lessons learned through their engagement in the State Exchange on Employment & Disability.
To learn more about the State Exchange on Employment & Disability and to access resources from network partners, please visit https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/state-policy