Overcoming ‘Perceptual Barriers’ to Jobs
State is Urged to Do More to Help Disabled New Yorkers Find Work
By Scott Waldman Albany Times Union March 20, 2012
The disparity between employment rates for the disabled and those without disabilities is a stubborn gap to close.
For more than a decade, the numbers have not budged.
In New York, the disabled have an employment rate of 33.8 percent, compared with 76.3 percent for individuals without disabilities, according to the state Education Department. That’s a gap of 43.5 percent and narrowing it requires a collaboration between the education, higher education, business and government sectors, according to Kevin Smith, the department’s deputy commissioner for the Office of Adult Career and Continuing Education Services.
“Like everyone else, individuals with disabilities can work, they want to work,” he said. “It’s not a level playing field.”
The disabled are a broad swath of the community, Smith said. They include people with learning and physical disabilities as well as drug- and alcohol-related disabilities.
At a Tuesday Board of Regents meeting, Smith said the state needs to do more to help the disabled find employment. He said “perceptual barriers” are often the biggest impediment as employers are concerned that disabled workers won’t be as productive.
In fiscal year 2011, the state helped 12,194 disabled people find jobs. That was a small increase from the 12,092 individuals who found work the previous fiscal year.
A proposed federal law would require businesses that contract with Washington to have disabled people comprise seven percent of their workforce. Smith said New York should enact a similar measure to boost the number of disabled in the state’s workforce. He said the state is working with the state contractors’ association, the state retail association and business councils to reduce the stigma about hiring the disabled.
He said finding employment for people who are able to work means a decreased reliance on public programs.
“It’s a significant taxpayer issue,” he said. “We spend an untold number of dollars to have these individuals live in the community.”