Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, people with disabilities have more access to the community than ever before. However, there is still one area of public life where people with disabilities are still lagging behind, and that’s employment.
In Missouri, people with disabilities face a 16 percent unemployment rate, and are employed at a rate 23 percent lower than that of the general population. Too often, people with disabilities want to work but encounter obstacles to employment.
Paraquad is continuously working hard to close this employment gap through programs and advocacy aimed at reducing (and, hopefully, eliminating) those barriers. Paraquad also offers programs and services aimed at changing cultural barriers through training and education. These programs and services provide the technical support necessary to achieve a successful employment experience for both the employee and employer.
Additionally, Paraquad is changing systemic barriers to employment by working to enhance access to vital personal care services for employment through the Ticket to Work Health Assurance (TWHA) program. And by advocating for an Employment First policy, we are integrating employment opportunities and increasing access to competitive wages.
These two initiatives are just part of Paraquad’s ongoing efforts to close the employment gap here in Missouri. We would like to encourage you to work with us by signing up for our Advocacy Matters newsletter, which will provide you with important policy updates and ways to take action to help close the gap.
Below is an overview of each of the programs that are doing long-term work to increase employment for people with disabilities.
Public Policy and Advocacy The Public Policy and Advocacy Department at Paraquad has prioritized two policy changes that will help remove structural barriers for people with disabilities in employment. The first is Ticket to Work Health Assurance (TWHA) program, or Medicaid for workers with disabilities, which allows individuals to continue accessing vital services that may not be covered by typical private insurance plans while making an income that may disqualify them for Medicaid. One example is personal care services — this service provides individuals with support such as meal preparation, transferring to and from bed and bathing. The second is an Employment First policy, which changes state supports to assume people can be employed in the community at competitive wages at or above minimum wage. Employment First policies have been successful in many states, including Ohio, where there was an 8 percent increase in employment after the policy was enacted. We are also active on the local level, increasing access to transportation and providing legal advocacy when workers with disabilities believe they have faced discrimination at their place of employment.
AccessibleSTL® Closing the employment gap is dependent on organizations creating a culture of inclusion for employees and applicants with disabilities. It’s not simply about making a facility physically accessible but about making programs and services inclusive, and sending a message that people with disabilities are welcome in every organization. Paraquad’s AccessibleSTL team works with organizations in the St. Louis region to implement this message. We provide training and education which ultimately leads to a better understanding of employees with disabilities and opens opportunities to an untapped talent pool.
The Bloom Café The Bloom Café and the education program are closing the employment gap by training workers for the hospitality industry. Students start with basic skills training in the classroom, then move into a paid internship at The Bloom Café and finally transition into competitive industry employment. Through our networking and public awareness, local businesses will have a pool of well-trained, responsible and reliable employees.
Employment Services The Employment Services program at Paraquad is closing the employment gap through support for people with disabilities. Through Supported Employment, people are supported by a job coach and mentor who will help them gain new job skills and maintain employment, setting them up for success. Paraquad develops partnerships with companies that lead to increased awareness about disability and better placements for participants. Additionally, the Show Me Employment Project helps people with disabilities who are working or preparing to work to meet their goals, and navigates how employment may affect their disability benefits.
Please contact Paraquad if you would like more information about any of the above programs and services. We are working year-round to close the employment gap, and together we can increase employment opportunities and economic independence for people with disabilities.
Christy Herzing, Kimberly Lackey, Steve Spencer and Joe Wilson contributed to this blog.
Derek Wetherell is the Systems Organizer at Paraquad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.