This Sunday marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affects those with disabilities, governors are reaffirming their commitment to this landmark law.
The ADA assures that all individuals, including those with disabilities, will have access to economic opportunity and full participation in civic life. It touches on nearly everything from employment and government services to public accommodations, telecommunications and transportation.
The nation’s governors have an important role in upholding provisions in ADA, as well as in building on these provisions to expand access to opportunity for people with disabilities across the country. This role is more important than ever as COVID-19 is impacting people with disabilities in major ways.
This June, the national employment rate for people with disabilities 16 and older was as low as 21 percent, compared to around 67 percent for people without disabilities. This statistic is the result of many factors, including lack of access to sufficient health and wellness supports during a pandemic, and uncertainty and fear of the risks involved in taking part in employment services or returning to work.
Without adequate holistic support available to people with disabilities, COVID-19 could have even more devastating and long-lasting impacts on individuals who already experience limited access to opportunity.
Many governors have worked to further the progress embodied in the ADA, especially in light of COVID-19. States have pushed for continued and additional support for people with disabilities when it comes to short- and long-term recovery efforts including:
- Developing toolkits to guide more inclusive emergency planning. Examples include Maryland’s Planning for People with Disabilities and Others with Access and Functional Needs Toolkit, Massachusetts’ Public Health Planning Toolkit for At-Risk Individuals with Access and Functional Needs and Minnesota’s Functional Needs Planning Toolkit for Emergency Planners. See additional information on related actions in the NGA Memo “Access and Functional Needs Considerations for COVID-19 Response and Recovery Planning.”
- Promoting efforts to continue healthcare services and access to resources for people with disabilities that depend on them. For example, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-25-20 to ensure critically-needed support for people with developmental disabilities. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed Executive Order 2020-06 that directs state agencies to steps to protect vulnerable populations.
- Developing plans to seamlessly provide employment services while taking necessary precautions. For example, the Texas Workforce Commission released a message to the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation providers to encourage remote service delivery and virtual correspondence to replace their in-person transactions.
- Centralizing resources and guidance for those providing supports to people with disabilities. For example, Maine’s Office of Aging and Disability Services created a repository of information for those providing supports to individuals with developmental disabilities, autism and brain injury. See additional information on related actions in the NGA Memo “Strategies for COVID-19 Response for Populations Receiving Long-Term Care.”
As inclusion and equity continue to be top priorities for governors in COVID-19 response and recovery, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices is proud to partner with the State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED), a state-federal collaborative launched by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.
This partnership works with state policymakers to “create accessible and inclusive environments that promote greater workforce participation and employment success for all citizens, including people with disabilities.” Through the upcoming year we look forward to engaging with SEED partners to help governors develop inclusive recovery strategies during and post COVID-19.
Kimberly Hauge is a senior policy analyst in the Workforce Development & Economic Policy Program of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, where she works with governors and state leaders on improving employment access for marginalized and underserved populations.
Rachael Stephens is the director of the Workforce Development & Economic Policy Program for the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.
Check out their post on “An Untapped Talent Pool: The Opportunity in Employing People with Disabilities” for further information on the challenges people with disabilities face in engaging in the labor market, and “States Expand Employment and Training Opportunities for People with Disabilities,” an NGA White Paper that outlines state strategies to overcome these challenges to build an inclusive and productive workforce.