It’s slow, but things seem to be inching forward with the economic recovery. There have been some signs that the job market is beginning to sputter and chug along, like an old car on cold mornings. Employment initiatives for people with developmental and other disabilities, which have also been in limbo along with the rest of the country, should be gearing up to get their engines going as well.

The jobs market that is reemerging from the Great Recession will be much different from the one we have traditionally known for years. It was already on its way to a much more fluid and fractured environment, where workers no longer found a job with a company or agency, settled in and worked there for their careers and then retired. That scene was fraying before and was pushed along significantly in this recent crisis.

Although that creates more volatile and less secure work situations for everyone, it also can create opportunities for workers who are looking for jobs that are not part of the old 40 hour a week, health benefits and two-week vacation packages.

The employment numbers for people with disabilities have remained very poor and seemingly intractable. After years and years of employment initiatives, reports, partnerships, supports, training, career paths and entrepreneurial opportunities people with disabilities are still not getting the bump they need to make significant inroads into the jobs’ market.

The Heldrich Center has ongoing initiatives, materials, web sites and the like to push employment of people with disabilities. A current look shows a focus there on employment for older people, providing materials for individuals and families, and a web link to a biz network run by the NJ Chamber of Commerce. All good stuff that will hopefully pay dividends in the future. If you want to check out what they have here the link:

Except for the NJ Business Leadership Network the info is worker targeted, and even the web linked info is primarily a jobs bulletin board. Heldrich and its MTARS projects have offered some excellent info and linkages in the past geared to finding out what businesses need and identifying workers with disabilities to fill those needs. We need more of that again. Businesses need what they need. Workers and those advocating on their behalf need to offer to fill those needs.

It’s a simple equation that has proven difficult to manage. But it’s the one I believe has the best chance of succeeding.

The State is doing some things too.

Last spring Governor Christie announced New Jersey was becoming an Employment First state. That’s more of a philosophical commitment to promote competitive employment for people with disabilities in the integrated workforce. That translated into a strong Supported Employment component to the Department of Human Services’ Comprehensive Medicaid Waiver, approved last fall. The Support Program will kick off in July. That can be tracked at

Nationally the Obama Administration has joined in a law suit in Oregon where the state, once a leader in promoting integrated employment, now had two thirds of its workers with disabilities in sheltered workshops. That’s troubling.

Refocusing our collective mind set away from segregation and stagnation to inclusion and opportunity for people with developmental and other disabilities has been a long hard slog. Going backwards is unacceptable. This is true for employment as well as for education, where people live, and their participation in all facets of their society.

For employment the numbers are still discouraging but the new economy may have some additional opps.

According to the US Dept. of Labor stats in May 2009 23 percent of people with disabilities were considered as participating in the labor force; today its 21 percent. The corresponding numbers for people without disabilities are 71 percent and 69 percent. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities has actually dropped somewhat in the same five year period, while that of people with disabilities has risen.

I believe the deep underlying structural changes that are contributing to the slow jobs recovery and the all the uncertainty surrounding it may offer some avenues for people with disabilities and those working with them to find employment They should be looking to what employers now want out of workers. They want workers with flexible hours; workers that can perform tasks reliably following an established framework—i.e. inventory control; order processing; shipping. They need more workers that are not necessarily building a new career but adding a better employment option into their already established lives. In short the Amazons and Ebays and the multitude of storefront vendors going online need workers in the vast network of warehouses, phone banks and shipping services that continue to be one of the booming parts of the economy.

Might be some linkages there. What do you all think?

More later.

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Disability in Focus