Last July, following the anniversary of the ADA, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein worked with disability rights advocates to form the New York State People with Disabilities Employment Task Force. That Task Force is today composed of 21 member organizations and 33 individuals from all across New York State.
Through the year, the Task Force worked with Assembly Member Epstein to devise strategies to create a more equitable and diverse workforce and those efforts include the legislation being announced today. Assembly bill A09118 AM Epstein and S07643 Sen Skoufis would set an aspirational hiring goal of 7% throughout all branches of New York State government, their contractors and subcontractors. A similar goal was established at the Federal level under an Executive Order signed by President Obama. Before he left office, he had achieved a 14.41% rate in the Federal government..
The Task Force reported that findings from the Kessler Foundation showed a 20% workforce reduction among people with disabilities as opposed to a 14% decrease for non-disabled workers as a result of the pandemic, further widening the gap.
“In three days, we will be celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and yet today we find the needle has barely budged from the 30% employment rate that existed when the law went into effect,” said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. “This legislation is revenue-neutral yet leverages government money as a vehicle for greater and more equitable workforce participation for individuals with disabilities,” he added. “Faced with proof that the accommodations that have been denied for years – telecommuting – are very efficient and are being worked into the reopening plans for nearly every business, it is vitally important for us to ensure People with Disabilities are fully a part of recovery plans and are not left behind,” he concluded.
“Even when the economy is doing well the employment rate for people with disabilities hovers around 30%. COVID-19 has turned this crisis into a catastrophe,” said Susan Dooha, Executive Director of Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY. “Our deepest thanks to Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and Senator Skoufis for A9118/S07643. We strongly urge legislators to pass and the Governor to sign these bills to help close this gap.”, she added.
“BILS would like to thank Assembly Member Epstein for understanding the importance of moving the needle of the employment of people with disabilities. 30 years after the passage of the ADA we have not made impactful progress on the employment of people with disabilities. It is time that all employers put in the effort to diversify their workforce further by hiring individuals with disabilities.”, said Brett Eisenberg of Bronx Independent Living Services. “The impact of COVID-19 has taught us all to be creative and think outside of the box which is something individuals with disabilities do naturally everyday. People with disabilities are an untapped labor pool that have been shown to increase a company’s bottom line and help organizations grow and move forward. We believe in leading by example and we are proud that 88% of our upper management is made up of people with disabilities. I have spent my entire career working with companies and organizations on recruiting qualified individuals with disabilities and this will always be an area of focus for our agency. We look forward to continuing to partner and work with all our elected officials, non-profit partners and companies on improving employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities.”, he concluded.
“ICD-Institute for Career Development has been providing training and employment services to individuals with disabilities for over a century,” said Susan Scheer, CEO. “Post-COVID, unemployment, which was already much higher for our community, has soared disproportionately. As we rebuild our economy, we must ensure that individuals with disabilities are fully included, a goal first articulated 30 years ago this month with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A09118/S07643 is an important step towards that goal. The legislation would leverage the funding power of New York State and its contractors to reduce the disability divide by hiring and advancing qualified individuals with disabilities.”
“ACBNY strongly supports A9118 (Epstein) and S7643 (Skoufis), establishing goals for participation by individuals with disabilities with respect to state employment, state contracts, legislative employment, and judicial employment.”, said Ian Foley of the American Council of the Blind. “This legislation will help to level the divide of employment for people with disabilities in our state. ACBNY believes that supporting this legislation will enhance the state’s diversity goals while helping to employ qualified persons with disabilities throughout the state. ACBNY further supports this legislation because similar standards have already been enacted on the federal level. Incorporating legislation like this into the state will also assist companies and organizations who may want to pursue federal contracts as well.”, he concluded.
“There has been a technological revolution in the thirty years since the Americans with Disabilities Act passed. This has opened many doors to many people with disabilities, making them more able to work than ever before. Yet, unemployment levels among people with disabilities remain staggering due to discrimination. As such, this bill is needed to make sure New Yorkers with disabilities have a chance to find gainful employment and prove they are valuable employees,.” said Meghan Parker of New York Association on Independent Living.
“The current economic crisis has only widened the already dramatic opportunity gap between New Yorkers with and without disabilities.”said Leonard Blades, chair of the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD), a student advocacy group. “CCSD strongly urges the members of the state legislature to pass A09118/S07643,” he added.
“Employment for individuals with disabilities is vital to the economic stability of New York State. It creates opportunities for those to be tax paying citizens, rather than tax receiving citizens. And, it provides NYS businesses with an untapped labor pool. By increasing standards, we increase opportunity,” said John Robinson, CEO of Our Ability, Inc. and Disability:IN New York.
“Education is the first step toward independence for many people, including those with disabilities. The members of The New York State Disability Services Council work with students with disabilities on college campuses every day to ensure inclusion in education and employment. This Bill aligns with our belief that every citizen has the right to better themselves and every community is richer when people with disabilities are educated and employed,” said Catherine A. Carlson, President, New York State Disability Services Council.
“Thirty years after the ADA became law, its promise for employment remains unfulfilled, but the Epstein/Skoufis bill is a chance to change the story for my community,” said Jessica De La Rosa, Systems Advocate of the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled. “One thing these difficult times have shown is that the traditional barriers to employment for people like me are crumbling, since everyone now realizes the potential of new working arrangements. With more than a million public employees in New York State and countless more funded by state contracts, the Epstein/Skoufis bill would seize this moment and capitalize on the extraordinary power the state has to expand hiring opportunities for people with disabilities.”