Guest Editorial by Candace Cable: Employment Matters for Californians with Disabilities: The Right Talent, Right Now

TheLiberalOC accepts guest editorial on a variety of topics; October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and we present this op-ed by Candace Cable

One might think that being a nine-time Paralympian and 12-time medalist, and becoming the first American woman to medal in both Summer and Winter Paralympics would set me up for success in the workplace. With the work of competitive sport comes all the attributes a day job needs: high standards; creativity; tenacity; perseverance; failing and returning, again and again; independence; teamwork; integrity; flexibility; focus; and other key workplace skills.

Once I left the wonderful world of Paralympic sports training and competition (every Paralympian and Olympian athlete has an end-date to such a high-level career), I was ready for the workplace. Yet I found that the workplace has not been so ready for disabled people.  I spent most of my employed career as an entrepreneur and now have a fabulous job in the disability employment inclusion space. I am RespectAbility’s California Workforce Program Manager. I see so much promise here in our Golden State, regarding employment for our approximately 1 in 5 Californians with disabilities who are primed to work. I know pushing harder and doing better is in my Paralympic-driven genes. I aim for our Golden State to join me in pushing harder and doing better with all my fellow Californians with disabilities who are geared to go to work!

October marks the annual celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This month is a chance to celebrate job seekers with disabilities who are striving to work and employers who are recruiting talented employees with disabilities. The theme for NDEAM 2019 is “The Right Talent, Right Now.” Indeed, employment matters for people with disabilities for more than just financial reasons. Employment matters because people with disabilities are seeking the opportunity to achieve independence, just like anyone else.

Celebrating NDEAM this year should be a call to action for the great state of California. Many other states outperform the Golden State when it comes to jobs for the one-in-five Americans living with a disclosed disability.  In a recent study, out of nearly 2 million working-age Californians with disabilities, only 721,536 had jobs. That puts our state’s disability employment rate at 36.4 percent. A recent ranking by RespectAbility, a nonpartisan disability inclusion organization, found that California ranks 35th out of the 50 states in terms of disability employment.

In the city of Los Angeles itself, according to the Census Bureau, only 70,837 working-age people with disabilities have jobs. That is out of a total population of over 185,000 working-age Angelenos with disclosed disabilities. In terms of Los Angeles County, according to the data, only 163,363 working-age Angelenos with disabilities have jobs. That is out of a total population of over 452,000 working-age Angelenos with disclosed disabilities.

California needs to fully implement an Employment First strategy where critical social programs for youth and adults with disabilities are oriented toward ensuring that getting a job is the top priority for individuals with disabilities. That goal is reinforced with high expectations among the teachers, coaches and parents around that individual.

California can further capitalize on past successes by following the example of states that show constant improvement such as Florida and Ohio. Both can attribute a portion of their growth in disability employment to Project SEARCH, a program for young adults with disabilities to prepare participants for the workforce. Data shows that 70 percent of SEARCH interns who complete their training obtain competitive employment. By expanding such critical programs, California can increase the number of people with disabilities entering the workforce.

Companies that embrace employees with disabilities clearly see the results in their bottom line. According to Accenture, disability-inclusive companies have higher productivity levels and lower staff turnover rates, are twice as likely to outperform their peers in shareholder returns and create larger returns on investment.

The fact is that disability is part of the human life experience. It is nothing to fear because all of us will be affected by it eventually, whether by accident, aging or illness. Opening more job opportunities now to people with disabilities in California will mean stronger communities and a better economy for California. Achieving this goal requires all Californians working together, because people with disabilities are the right talent, right now.

Candace Cable lives in Los Angeles, works for RespectAbility as its California Workforce Program Manager, and is a nine-time Paralympian and 12-time medalist.