This year is the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yet only half of Wyoming’s 15,000 working-age people with disabilities are employed, compared with close to 80 percent of those without disabilities. While Wyoming is doing better than many other states, too many people with disabilities still face poverty, powerlessness and worse.
Today fully 2,400 youth with disabilities, between the ages of 16 and 20, are preparing to enter the workforce in Wyoming. However, Wyoming returned $858,951 million to Washington -- money that was meant to help people with disabilities find employment.
Fully 1 in 5 Americans has a disability, and polls show that most people with disabilities want to work. Walgreens, EY, Lowes, AMC Theatres and other companies have seen that people with disabilities can be extremely capable and loyal workers.
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Vocational rehabilitation in Wyoming helped 678 people with disabilities find jobs in 2012. However, when the money was sent back to Washington, people with disabilities, employers (who missed out on the talent this diverse population can provide) and taxpayers were all big losers.
Wyoming citizens care a lot about these issues. Part of their earlier success came from the Wyoming Business Leadership Network, which operated in nine communities before their funding was cut. It provided extensive job training and education. Hopefully, with the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, it will rise again.
Resources need to be directed to programs that work, are cost effective, and give people with disabilities the ability to pursue the American Dream. Project SEARCH and Bridges to Work continue to get outstanding results for employers, people with disabilities, and taxpayers around the country. Young people with disabilities in Wyoming would greatly benefit from expanding school to work transition opportunities. Such opportunities should connect them to job sectors that in-demand in Wyoming. Tourism is area where studies have proven that people with disabilities can be model employees in this high turnover industry. RespectAbility recently hosted a webinar on this topic.
Wyoming should do all it can to enable its citizens with disabilities to achieve a better future.