Disability Employment the Focus of First Week in February

Feb 6, 2015

Credit Benny Lin Via Flickr

Trying to find gainful employment when you’re disabled can be varying degrees of frustrating, depending on the nature of your disability. But the Florida legislature is moving to alleviate some of those headaches.

Governor Rick Scott’s latest budget proposal allocates 8 million dollars to move people with disabilities off of a waiting list for, and onto, a Medicaid Waiver program. Melanie Mowry Etters, spokesperson for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, says the program provides disabled people with extra services both during the job hunt and after they’re employed.

“They get adult day training programs if they want to go to work, they can fund a job coach with that funding,” Etters said in an interview.

But there’s a catch, according to Dan Moore, the executive director for Ability 1st: 8 million dollars only covers about 400 individuals.

“The amount of millions of dollars he’s talking about is going to serve a small portion of the most significantly disabled people in Florida,” Moore explained. “And then there’s literally hundreds of thousands of people who have other disabilities that may not get any services at all.”

While he’s trying to stay optimistic, Moore says there’s still a lot of work he’d still like to see done, especially when it comes to certain types of disabilities that get overlooked.

“What’s more difficult is the invisible disabilities. Ones that effect mood, thought, cognitive ability, memory, those kind of disabilities.”

The logo for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities

Later this week, the Florida Senate Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability met to deliberate on a proposal that would help disabled people reach economic independence by encouraging state agencies to hire them.

The bill was endorsed by former republican representative-turned-lobbyist Susan Goldstein, who works on behalf of Disability Rights of Florida, and whose son is autistic.

“We tell our kids all the time when they’re students, they can grow up to be whatever they want to be,” Goldstein said in front of the committee. “And we just want to thank you for walking the walk, because you’re opening a lot of doors and presenting a lot of opportunities to these kids, and we’re doing what we’re telling them we’re going to do for them in their lives, so thank you.”

She’s not the only one with a personal connection to the issue. Senate president Andy Gardiner’s son has Down syndrome. Gardiner is backing a program that would bring more educational benefits for disabled kids. He’d like the legislature to expand personal learning accounts.

“One of the problems that you see is that, maybe a business, or even a government, says, ‘well, yeah, we’re supportive, but let somebody else do it,’” he expressed on WFSU’s “It’s About Florida” program to host Lynn Hatter.

“But if you have internships, and you have the ability for a business or a government entity to see, ‘hey, this individual with a unique ability can do this or that, may need to help ‘em a little bit more, but they can provide a service,’ then I think it just adds to that ability for job placement.”

The bill proposed to the committee would require state agencies to reach hiring goals and submit annual reports, and it passed unanimously.

They’re small steps, to be sure, but for the disabled population who have made it past the “you’re hired” stage? From Publix baggers, to accountants, to mail carriers to, let’s say, intern reporters at local NPR affiliates? It’s encouraging to see the steps being taken. There are still plenty of us still out there.