The Big Picture: Employment for People with Disabilities
By Beth Swedeen, Executive Director
Nationwide, and in Wisconsin, people with significant disabilities struggle with high unemployment rates. Within our state’s long-term care systems, employment rates vary between 3% and 14%, well below the rates experienced by the general population.
Doubling the number of people with disabilities who have community-integrated employment in Wisconsin is a goal in BPDD’s 2012-2016 State Plan. Competitive employment can be the solution to many challenges people with significant disabilities face, including poverty, lack of access to healthcare, and social isolation.
Integrated employment is defined as working at minimum wage or above in a worksite where the majority of co-workers do not have disabilities. The following BPDD projects and collaborations are contributing to us meeting our employment goal:
- The Let’s Get to Work project aims to increase competitive employment rates among youth with significant disabilities. The project will be adding four new school districts in October (New Auburn, West Allis, Rhinelander, and Stoughton) to the five pilots (Manitowoc, Grafton, Holmen, Oconomowoc, and Kewaunee County). Many students in the pilots have had early contact with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and a range of other supports that have led to paid work experiences. A policy team in the project also works with state departments and legislators to implement policies that lead to higher employment outcomes.
- A statewide Employment First initiative is underway. Along with APSE and a host of other partners, the initiative is aimed at building local grassroots support and public policy strategies that focus on competitive employment for people with disabilities. A statewide steering team has formed, and local Community Action Teams will receive coaching and financial support from BPDD and APSE to improve local employment efforts and raise community awareness.
- For the second year in a row, BPDD is conducting the Take Your Legislator to Work Campaign to connect lawmakers with constituents who are working in competitive-wage jobs in their communities. Last year, more than 40 visits took place. This year, the Governor has issued an official proclamation for Disability Employment Awareness Month that recognizes the importance of people with disabilities working and contributing to their communities.
- Our Partners in Policymaking program will continue to focus on competitive employment. In November, the 2013 program will begin and 30 new family members and self-advocates from all over Wisconsin will learn about the importance of advocating for competitive employment for people with disabilities.
- Employment issues will be highlighted in the biennial budget platforms of various disability groups. BPDD issued its 2013-2015 Budget Platform, and our partners the Survival Coalition and People First Wisconsin both released budget platforms that emphasize the importance of competitive employment for people with disabilities.