At a recent field hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee in Cedar Rapids, a new generation of Iowans living with disabilities described their high expectations to succeed in the competitive labor market. This group of young people, whom I refer to as the "ADA Generation," are inspiring and motivated. The strategies they shared should serve as a national model of what can be done to increase the employment participation rate for all individuals with disabilities.
Emilea Hillman of Independence is only 24 years old, but she is already an entrepreneur and owner of Em's Coffee Co., a caf where she employs six people. After spending months developing a business plan and navigating the challenges that face any new small business owner, she opened the shop in 2009. Em, who has an intellectual disability, uses various techniques to help her in remembering orders and now has a loyal customer base.
Ron Frank, the manager of the Walgreens in Cedar Rapids, described how his company has pioneered efforts for enhancing employment for youth and adults with disabilities. This local store has partnered with Goodwill of the Heartland to provide a job skills training program, allowing job seekers with disabilities to gain both classroom knowledge of the retail environment and skills necessary for hands-on experience in a retail setting.
Last year, nearly 3 million Americans without disabilities joined the labor force, but over same period, 94,000 workers with disabilities left the labor force. In Iowa, even with our relatively low unemployment rate in comparison to the rest of the country, individuals with disabilities face barriers to finding jobs.
As the country celebrates the 22nd anniversary of the ADA this July 26th, I released a report that urges Congress, the Administration, the business community, and society at large to make the issue of disability employment a national priority.
Although the numbers highlighted in my report are sobering, I think that we are at a turning point for bringing more people with disabilities into the workforce.