With fully 70% of working age Americans with disabilities outside the workforce, BMX bike legend and host of MTV’s The Challenge, T.J. Lavin, Governor Jack Markell (DE), Rep. Pete Sessions (TX), Rep. Brad Sherman (CA) and Paralympian Matt Cowdrey joined together to meet with dozens of Capitol Hill professionals. The group could not be farther apart geographically or ideologically, but share a commitment to improving opportunities for people with disabilities. At the well-attended hill event on Wednesday, they voiced their experience and discussed policies and attitudes that are necessary to empower PwDs to achieve the American Dream.
Currently, 1 in 5 Americans have a disability, and 51% of Americans have a friend or family member with a disability. However, 70% of working-age American with disabilities are outside of the workforce (compared to 28% of those without disabilities). This statistic has remained unchanged in the 24 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.
TJ Lavin is starring in a new public service ad for RespectAbilityUSA. In the ad he says “whether it is me, you, or someone who just wants to work — we all should have the same opportunity to achieve the American dream.” Lavin knows how a disability can change a person’s life. In October of 2010, the extreme sport champion suffered a serious accident but has now recovered. Said Lavin, “People with disabilities deserve an equal chance at employment. While most people don’t do BMX, everyone is just an accident, disease or age related issue away from a disability. It is time we respect people for their abilities rather than focusing on their disabilities.”
Gov. Markell is a national leader and an advocate for improving employment levels for people with disabilities in his home state of Delaware and around the country. As the immediate past chair of the National Governor’s Association, Markell’s NGA initiative is “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People With Disabilities.” Congressmen Brad Sherman and Pete Sessions are strong advocates for people with disabilities (PwDs). Rep. Sessions’ son, Alex, has Downs syndrome and is an Eagle Scout. Matthew Cowdrey is a multi-Gold medalist paralympian.
“Currently, 3 out of 4 people with disabilities would prefer a job and independence rather than enrollment in government benefits” commented Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility, a non profit devoted to empowering people with disabilities to achieve the American dream, which organized the gathering and public service ad. “We have to do more to enable people who want to work get into jobs that fit their efforts and abilities. Every person who can work should be encouraged to follow their dreams. ”
Companies like Walgreen’s, EY and AMC have found people with disabilities to be highly valued employees who drive their company’s productivity as loyal, safe, employees. While upfront accommodations may cost a small initial fee, loyal and successful employees save companies thousands of dollars in turnover.
Says Mizrahi, “It is time for other companies to open new doors for people with disabilities. The bottom line is that people with disabilities (PwDs) want a hand up, not a hand out. They want to work side-by-side with people who don’t have disabilities, make their contribution to society, pay their taxes, and achieve the American dream. It is time for America to achieve its full potential by encouraging all Americans who can work to do so. As T.J. Lavin puts it, “recognize the disability, respect the ability, but imagine the possibility.”
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.