Disabled Americans Still Struggle to Find Employment: an ADA Update

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is a broad civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on disability. The intent of the law was to open employment opportunities to people who had been ignored in years past. But 25 years later, disabled Americans still struggle to find employment. Colleen Kelly Starkloff is the Co-Director of the Starkloff Disability Institute. She discusses the problems still faced by disabled persons in this report.

Colleen Kelly Starkloff

Colleen Kelly Starkloff

Starkloff says that there are still attitudinal barriers that interfere with the integration of more disabled persons into the workforce. Employers who say they want to hire disabled people often don’t understand who disabled people are or how to accommodate them. Because the law does not allow an employment interviewer to inquire about disabilities, people conducting interviews don’t seem to know what questions they can ask. Fear of breaking the law makes employers overly cautious in dealing with disable people.

Another barrier is a sort of Catch-22 problem with Medicaid. Many people with disabilities are getting attendant services and health benefits through Medicaid. If a disabled person succeeds in getting a job and earns a little too much money, the person will not be able to keep the attendant services or the health care benefits. That keeps a lot of people with disabilities from entering the job market, Stakloff says.

Yet another barrier is an emotional problem that disabled people sometimes develop when they have repeatedly been turned down for employment. Starkloff explains that some of them just give up the struggle. One of the things her institute does is with its Next Big Step program is try to re-energize disabled people to keep seeking employment.

Starkloff says that there are governmental resources available to help disabled people find work. A federal and state program called vocational rehabilitation is available in every state. Vocational rehabilitation will pay for the training of disabled persons so that they can qualify for jobs. Starkloff says that there are so many federal programs that encourage employment, they are almost too many to list. The result is that disabled people are getting the skills they need to enter the job market.

Starkloff also mentions an executive order signed by President Obama called “100,000 People by 2015.” The objective of the order was to encourage federal agencies to hire people with disabilities. Starkloff says that the federal government has been very active in employing people with disabilities. She also mentions Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The law had no enforcement until March, 2014. The law requires that federal contractors hire people with disabilities as seven percent of their workforce.

Incentives to hire disabled people need to be on the books if disabled people are ever going to find the employment they need.

Colleen Kelly Starkloff is the Co-Director of the Starkloff Disability Institute of St. Louis, Missouri and a long-time advocate for persons with disabilities. Before her present position, she served at Paraquad, Inc. for 26 years. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.