Finding Dignity For Workers With Disabilities

This week's troy talk: Finding Dignity For Workers With DisabilitiesLabor Day is around the corner. It is a day when we recognize and acknowledge our nation’s workforce and contributions to our society and economy. This Labor Day, I wanted to particularly acknowledge the work of our citizens with disabilities.

Throughout my time in the legislature, I have supported efforts to make New Jersey a more inclusive state when it comes to our citizens with disabilities. Specifically, I have supported and protected the resources that we devote to the Sheltered Workshop and Vocational Rehabilitation programs. I understand the importance of these programs, as they provide jobs, supportive workplaces, and related services for our individuals with disabilities. They also help to make sure that the New Jersey workforce is truly inclusive of workers with special needs.

I am supportive of extended employment programs and was disappointed to see funding for extended employment programs reduced. I am working to find a resolution that will restore some of this funding for these vital programs in the upcoming budget, which begins on October 1st. To that end, I am a co-prime sponsor of Senate Bill No. 2707, which increases the FY 2020 appropriation for Extended Employment services by $2.5 million to ensure rate stability.

Additionally, in the past, I have also asked Gov. Phil Murphy to consider issuing an updated Executive Order, which would further the goals of the Rehabilitation Facilities Set Aside Act and require the purchase of goods and services from the Central Non-Profit Agency. Instead of asking public entities to make a “good faith effort” to purchase 3% of goods from the Central Non-Profit Agency, I suggested raising it to 5%. This would send a strong message that New Jersey is genuinely inclusive of workers with special needs and fully committed to ensuring their success.

If you haven’t thought about creating a specific target for broadening your workforce with hard-working employees that might have a disability, consider contacting New Jersey’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development. I also urge you to visit this webpage that provides an important workplace Q & A on issues directly affecting the disabled at https://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/ddd/services/ses/.

Let’s not forget the value that work brings to those living with disabilities. As New Jersey’s Department of Human Services notes, “Work can provide a sense of purpose, personal accomplishment, financial strength and self-determination.”

Nationwide, about one in five people have a disability, and of that number, 1.7 million live in New Jersey, according to the Department of Human Services. Yet the number of employed with disabilities stands at 20.2% (nationwide) compared with 67.2% for those that are without disabilities, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor.

We need to do more. It is the moral and practical thing to do because workers with disabilities need a fair chance in the workplace, and we need to provide them with the opportunity to earn a livable wage. The Department of Labor & Workforce Development does an excellent job of explaining the benefits — for workers and their employers — that we gain from encouraging workers with disabilities to join the workforce. There are two more benefits that we should consider.

The first is the economic benefit, something to which I regularly refer. When more of us work, more of us benefit, adding to the strength of our statewide economy.

There is another reason, and we don’t hear it frequently enough. Everyone deserves the right to experience a sense of dignity in what they do. With dignity comes respect, and that is a fundamental step in achieving equality in the workplace and our lives outside of work. Working, or more simply, having a fulfilling job can provide that dignity.

That’s my take, what’s yours?


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