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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET


Jamie Colby

New York


Employment for People With Disabilities

December 23, 2009 - 10:27 AM | by: Jamie Colby

More than half of Americans with disabilities are unemployed and that number may be as high as 80 percent, according to several disability rights advocates. The federal government, the nation’s largest employer has under the Obama administration, as in prior administrations, set an initiative to hire workers with disabilities, but the private sector is not obligated to do so.

Chet Cooper, who has ADHD and Dyslexia, is the founder of ABILITY Magazine which for twenty years has helped people with disabilities and willing employers hook up through Cooper’s highly successful job link.

“We should all look at this and start looking at the abilities of people rather than the disability, because we are really all in this together and it is attitudes that are the major barrier and we are trying to change those attitudes through the publication, ” Cooper says.

Fox News made multiple requests of Kathleen Martinez, the Assistant Secretary of President Obama’s Office of Disability Employment Policy who is herself blind and her staff, for an interview to break down the unemployment numbers for disabled workers and the impact the recession may be having on them, but we were refused any chance to speak with her or review any numbers.

Our investigation uncovered a November, 2009 unemployment figure of 14.1 percent for the disabled. However, Chet Cooper says this statistic only accounts for people with disabilities who have been actively working, lost their jobs and are seeking employment. Cooper and other experts point out that the unemployment figure is actually much higher.

“Eighty percent of workers with disabilities are unemployed looking at the Percent of Population in Labor Force numbers the government provides. If people with disabilities are asked, are you looking for work and they say no, they are not classified as unemployed and many have given up their search after countless unsuccessful attempts. Once they are counted as not in the workforce, they are taken out of the equation,” which is why Cooper explains government estimates of the disabled without a temporary or fulltime job is substantially less than the real number.

Eric Jackier, who has Cerebral Palsy and is the founder and CEO of Enable Enterprise, Inc. tells employers willing to review candidates he provides for jobs there are unique benefits to hiring a worker with a disability which can include hearing and visual impairments, military injuries, learning and mental health limitations, even heart disease or diabetes.

“In conditions like this when we have a recession a person with a disability might be an option to hire. There are tax credits involved for employers who are looking to hire, there is on the job training, there are job coaches who can be sent to the various job sites. So in fact there are ways that employers can actually save money, even in a recession, by hiring a person with a disability,” Jackier says.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal opportunities, but it does not require employers to hire the disabled.

Cooper recalls a eureka moment back in the Bush administration. “If people are on SSI and SSDI (social security disability benefits), if we can get people that are on those programs that are basically taking tax dollars, if we could turn them into employees they become part of the tax base” says Cooper. These workers with disabilities end up representing essentially a huge shift from taxpayer cost to increase of tax base. Cooper continues “when President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act he said there is $200 billion in savings that can occur and that was back in 1990, so those numbers would now be so much more. So part of our economic shift could occur if companies really embraced and started hiring more people with disabilities. The tax burden of what we pay changes and the tax base goes way up.”

So how to get people with disabilities employed? is unique in its focus on this with tens of thousands of resumes on-line awaiting employers to find them. Jackier’s efforts with Enable Enterprises similarly matches workers with willing bosses. But many face a dilemma every time they apply for a job – “to tell or not to tell.”  Mduhaffar Al-Momani earned an MBA in Finance and Operations with a 3.9 GPA, speaks Arabic and has interviewed at universities, private companies and at the United Nations for what he says was his lifelong dream job.  Al-Momani has retinal degeneration and must rely now on a walking stick and special software that allows him to use a computer exactly as a sighted person does. He says he was he was refused accommodations at the UN to take a qualifying exam.  The question of when to alert a prospective employer about a disability is a concern of every disabled worker Fox spoke to. Some worry if you tell the employer on the phone before the interview or in a cover letter you have a disability or need special accommodations, you might not get the chance to come in for an interview and show your skills or even be considered. “Show up in a wheelchair, a walking stick or modified laptop and you face the risk of an awkward interview as the employer processes any concerns he or she has about your ability to do the work or how fellow employees will react to having you around,” al-Momani explains.

“I have to keep trying” he says. “The other choice I have is to just stay home. And if I stay home, what am I going to do? Apply for government assistance? I never did in my life nor do I wish to do in the future. I want to depend on myself, I want to work, I know I can give.”

For More Resources:

For assistance with jobs or if you would like to hire the disabled <> <> <>

If you are disabled and unemployed ABILITY Magazine is offering free digital copies of the magazine <>

To Call Enable Enterprises (877) 629 4099

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