Florida disability advocates are celebrating changes to federal employment law President Barack Obama signed last week. Florida will be required to help get people with disabilities jobs within the community whenever possible rather than positions segregated from the rest of society.
The updated law will help end what advocates call the “school-to-warehouse pipeline” for young adults with disabilities. The law requires states to consider first whether someone’s goals and interests can be met with a job working alongside people who don’t have disabilities.
“We always say, 'Raise your hand if you know someone with a disability,' and almost 99 percent of the people in the room would raise their hand," says Robert Cummins. He oversees the Florida operation of a non-profit called Opportunity Services. It helps place people in temp jobs alongside coaches while employers evaluate whether to hire them. Its partners include about 100 companies that hire the clients.
“It just goes to show you, if more and more opportunities are out there, we can help place more people with employment," he says.
Disability Rights Florida Public Policy Director Sylvia Smith says, through providers like Opportunity Services, the law will make it harder for people with disabilities to be segregated into sub-minimum-wage jobs only with other people with disabilities.
“Now that we’ve had special education since the ‘70s, our expectation for what these kids can accomplish once they leave schools continues to go up," Smith says. "So that means the expectations in the law for what the state agencies and its provider-agencies provide also needs to go up."
Among other requirements, the law mandates Florida to offer "competitive integrated employment" to people with disabilities starting in 2016. Funding for the programs comes from the federal and state governments and is administered through the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.