About nine years ago, I visited what was then MBNA, now Bank of America, at a facility in Newark. There, the company employed about 300 people with disabilities who were responsible for a variety of tasks including making promotional materials. I met a young man, about 25 years old, who was making t-shirts and I asked him what he did before he got that job. He told me he sat at home for six years watching TV with his parents.
A light bulb went off in my head. This job not only offered him a paycheck, but significantly improved his quality of life. He had a greater purpose, the ability to be part of a team and to be part of something bigger than him. And for his family – this job meant he had some place to go, something meaningful to do and support outside his family network. In turn, their quality of life improved as well. His story and countless others that I have met over the years inspired our announcement last weekend that our Chairman’s initiative at the National Governors Association will be called: A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.
Advancing employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities is the right thing to do as a society. It’s the smart thing for government to do. And it makes good business sense. The statistics are sobering. Iowa’s senior Senator Tom Harkin recently released a report that said: employment outcomes for persons with disabilities have not improved since 1990; that between 2008 and 2010, workers with disabilities left the workforce at five times the average rate; that the median income for these workers is less than 2/3 the median wages for other workers.
Making a difference in these numbers will not be easy, but the work is important. By this time next year, we will have created a blueprint for businesses and states that identifies best practices and outlines steps that can be put in place to increase economic opportunity and heighten awareness. It will provide governors and state policymakers with more policy options to assess the environment in their state and specific strategies designed to support this population.
It doesn’t matter whether someone was born with additional challenges to face or – in the case of our wounded veterans, for example – acquired them later in life. There are so many people with disabilities who have the time, talent and desire to make meaningful contributions to interested employers. What matters is what they have to offer and the tremendous impact this will have on their overall well-being and on the bottom line of the businesses that employ them.
I hope that you’ll join me in this effort to make an important difference in this area across the country and, in doing so, help keep our great state moving forward.
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