The following blog post was written by Laura Ruby – Director of Accessibility Policy and Standards at Microsoft. She has worked in this area of the technology sector for more than 22 years.
Twenty-four years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) promised a new generation of workers opportunities to join the U.S. workforce. But as we celebrate the anniversary of the act Saturday, a report offers a sobering reminder that many members of this ADA generation still face high barriers when looking for a job.
Today, more than two-thirds of Americans with disabilities are not in the workforce and employment of workers with disabilities hasn’t improved since the act was passed in 1990, according to the congressional report released last year by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. The report proposed a bold plan to help the ADA generation make easier transitions from school to work.
The passing of the landmark ADA was one of the country’s biggest shifts in public policy for people with disabilities. But, nearly a quarter of a century after its passage there is still work to do, said Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, who released the report, “High Expectations: Transforming the American Workforce as the ADA Generation Comes of Age.”
There are signs of progress, particularly among the nation’s newest generation of workers, ages 16 to 19. In this group, the labor force participation rate among workers with disabilities is far closer to the rate found among other groups, the report added.
“A ripe opportunity exists for Congress, the federal government, and the business community to work hand-in-hand to make competitive, integrated employment the first choice for individuals with disabilities. The goals of equality of opportunity, full participation in American society, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency are the birthright of this young generation, and we must work together to ensure this promise is met.” Sen. Harkin said.
To reach these goals the report recommends:
- ”Increasing support for high school students as they plan for their transition into the workforce.”
- ”Improving the transition of the ADA generation as they enter postsecondary education and the labor market.”
- ”Leveraging employer demand, correcting misconceptions about employing people with disabilities, building strong pipelines from school to the competitive workforce, and establishing supportive workplaces.”
Washington State is already working on improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Last year, Governor Jay Inslee created the Disability Employment Task Force to assist state agencies with recruitment and retention of people with disabilities. Microsoft was appointed to help the task force provide guidance and other support to agencies and institutions of higher education on recruitment, retention, accommodation, and accessibility for persons with disabilities.
And earlier this week President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), following the Senate’s passage of the bill by a vote of 95 to 3. The act improves existing federal workforce development programs by helping U.S. workers develop skills for 21st century jobs. It also requires states to boost efforts that help prepare young people with disabilities for competitive jobs.
At Microsoft, we are committed to helping the ADA generation and their peers around the world have even more successful transitions from school to work. Some of the things we are doing today include:
- Developing accessible technology.
- Providing guidance for educators, students and staff at public and private organizations.
- Launching Youth Spark, Microsoft’s global initiative to create opportunities for 300 million youth over three years to develop skills and provide training they need to be successful.
When we celebrate the ADA this Saturday, I invite everyone to join Microsoft in supporting the ADA generation’s successful transition from school to the full realization of employment.