National Disability Employment Awareness Month

“There is a stigma against people with disabilities. People keep underestimating them, don’t believe they can work hard or keep a job. But when the disability community gets support, they can succeed. They can earn a living, pay taxes and integrate into the community.”

Those are the words of Peter O’Halloran, a worker, family member, self-advocate and person with a developmental disability from Philadelphia. Peter works as a staff assistant at Quality Progressions, a human services agency that provides support services for people with intellectual disabilities, including employment support services. Peter knows, first hand and through those he assists, the challenges a person with a disability faces when trying to work.

The negative effects of being unable to work impact the disability community in similar ways to their non-disabled peers, such as difficulty paying medical bills and meeting monthly expenses. In 2017, a National Disability Institute analysis found that people with disabilities were three times more likely to have difficulty paying their bills than those without disabilities.[1] The same analysis found that 55 percent of people with disabilities were unable to cover a $2,000 emergency expense compared to 32 percent for those without a disability.[2]

Despite greater financial needs, individuals with disabilities trying to work continue to face prejudice about their abilities and barriers in workplaces that make it more difficult to obtain and retain a job. Studies indicate that 60 to 80 percent of individuals with disabilities report they want to work.[3] However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 21 percent of individuals with disabilities are employed, compared to 69 percent of non-disabled individuals.[4]

While there have been great advances in access, civil rights and participation in competitive integrated employment, the overall level of employment for people with disabilities has grown only slightly since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

We need to jumpstart competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities. That means decent wages, good jobs, benefits comparable to non-disabled co-workers and the chance to advance in their careers. That is why I have introduced a series of bills, including S. 255, the Disability Employment Incentive Act (DEIA), which will encourage employers to hire and retain employees with disabilities. It enhances three existing tax credits to support employers who hire individuals with disabilities and make workplaces more accessible to those employees.

Another strategy to increase employment for people with disabilities it to make sure they have the support they need. Assistive technology can make it possible for an individual with a disability to accomplish their job and to advance in their career. That is why I introduced S. 1835, the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act, which will increase funding to state assistive technology programs and make it possible for more individuals to access assistive technology which can, among other things, provide the necessary assistance to obtain a job or stay employed.

Providing workplace support also means committing to competitive integrated employment for every individual. We need to help current employers who pay subminimum wage to transform their workplaces to pay at least minimum wage. My bill, S. 260, the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, would provide states and subminimum wage employers with the resources they need to create competitive integrated employment workplaces and enhance inclusive wraparound services that some individuals with disabilities will need.

We need to help individuals with disabilities who want to work and grow in their career, while they have the support of benefits from programs such as Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. Millions of individuals with disabilities depend on public benefits to meet their health care, housing and nutrition needs. However, prior to the passage of the ABLE Act in 2014, individuals could not accumulate more than $2,000 in assets such as savings or retirement funds without risking the loss of needed benefits. Individuals were forced to forego promotions and pass up successful careers in order to preserve access to their vital services.

Through ABLE programs, individuals with disabilities who acquire their disability prior to their 26th birthday are eligible to open an ABLE account and save for their long-term care and disability expenses, without risking the loss of federal benefits. But there are millions of individuals who are ineligible to open ABLE accounts simply because they acquired their disability after their 26th birthday. It’s time for that to change, which is why I have been joined by a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce S. 651, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act to raise the age limit to 46 years of age and give millions of individuals the opportunity to achieve financial independence.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time to do more than simply celebrate past achievements. It is a time to highlight the great contributions of workers with disabilities. It is a time to recognize the diversity and strength they bring to a workplace. It is a time to celebrate that competitive integrated employment has increased. And it is also time to resolve that we must continue to fight for further access to the point that people with disabilities no longer face discrimination in the workplace. Seventy-four years after Congress first chose to celebrate disability employment we can renew our resolve to make workplaces accessible and promote the hiring of people with disabilities to provide them with the economic opportunities available to all Americans.


[2] ibid.




Representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

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