DisabilityYesterday Governor Cuomo signed an executive order creating the New York Employment First Commission. The members of the Commission, including the Governor’s Deputy Secretaries for Health, Civil Rights and Human Services, are tasked with developing recommendations for how the State can make “competitive, integrated employment” the first option when considering supports and services for people with disabilities. The bottom line is to significantly increase employment of New Yorkers with disabilities.

This is welcome news for those living with disabilities, but also for employers and our state’s economy. The low employment rate for individuals with disabilities who want to work is a national travesty. Being unemployed lowers self-esteem, shrinks the pool of talented and motivated workers, increases costs for family members and taxpayers, and results in decreased productivity across the State. At NYLAG we are deeply committed to building a diverse workforce, and we have been richly rewarded by the invaluable contributions and amazing spirit of our colleagues with disabilities.

The Governor has set tentative goals of a 5% increase in the employment rate and a 5% decrease in the poverty rate among this population. Accomplishing these objectives will not be easy – but the employment challenges faced by New Yorkers with disabilities demand that we try. Here are the facts:

  • One million working-age New Yorkers (18-64 years) have a disability.
  • The employment rate for a person with a disability is 31.2% v. 72% for someone without a disability.
  • 250,000 people with disabilities are living on government benefits.
  • The poverty rate for working-age people with disabilities living in the community is more than twice that of those without a disability. (28.6% v. 12.3%)

The good news is that we have role models in other states, which are already beginning to make strides. Wisconsin, for example, has positioned employment for people with disabilities as an integral part of its overall economic and workforce development plan. Governor Scott Walker, who included comments on this topic in his State of the State address, is committed to a long term employer education and public awareness campaign. The State is investing in seed programs to provide financial incentives for employers who hire people with disabilities, and provides disability employment training grants. As a result, in little more than a year, Wisconsin has increased – by over 1,000 –  the number of people with disabilities placed in jobs making over $12 an hour – and is maintaining very high retention rates.

Unfortunately, the same commitment to the rights and dignity of those with disabilities is not apparent in Washington. On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate again failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), a United Nations treaty that would extend disability rights to people around the world. Since CRPD was developed based on our own Americans with Disabilities Act (passed almost 25 years ago) this is difficult to fathom.

It appears that, once again, our states have been left to fill the legislative void in Washington. That makes me doubly proud of Governor Cuomo’s action.

Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge