On Oct. 3, President George W. Bush proclaimed October to be National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The cities of Soldotna, Kenai, Homer and Seward, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough have adopted similar proclamations. The proclamations are designed to highlight the potential of workers who experience disabilities and to urge business within those cities to adhere to the hiring practices stipulated in the Americans with Disabilities Act Employment Section.
For many years people with disabilities were kept out of the work force by antiquated Social Security disability policy and the attitude, of those who made policy, that people with disabilities were incapable of working. We have worked hard to change systems that once encouraged and fostered dependence, to more accurately reflect the desires of people who desperately want to work and be independent.
New Social Security work incentives are designed to make it easier to work and acknowledge going back to work does not mean an end to impairment. State rules mandating individuals with disabilities receive equal treatment in the Alaska Job Center Network and allow a worker with a disability to purchase affordable health coverage are enormous steps in the right direction.
The fact remains, however, 70 percent of Alaskans with disabilities who can and want to work are still unemployed.
To change that appalling number we need to make employers aware of the untapped labor pool that people with disabilities represent. People with disabilities are motivated and loyal employees. U. S. Department of Labor statistics show that a worker with a disability is more likely to remain in a job for a significantly longer time than his non-disabled peer. They have higher attendance and are more punctual than the average worker.
In Alaska, every business with more than one employee is required to adhere to the ADA employment provisions, yet the 70 percent unemployment rate has remained unchanged for the last decade.
In this month of national awareness, we will make it known that people with disabilities must be given an equal consideration for jobs and careers. We want employers to know people with disabilities are actively seeking work and careers. They want to be judged on their abilities not their disabilities.
The ADA and other civil rights laws do not guarantee we get the jobs we seek, only the opportunity to compete for those jobs.
Jim Brady, Kenai Peninsula, Independent Living Center
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