Fighting for Fair Employment
By Assembly Member Harvey Epstein
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Over 30 years after the Americans with Disability Act was signed, too many people with disabilities are still unemployed and underemployed. We must find ways to make our workforce more inclusive and accessible to everyone. According to the Comptroller’s office, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 7.6 percentage points higher than for those who do not have a disability in 2022. This is 2.9 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate for people with disabilities. New York should be leading the nation in inclusive employment, not trailing behind. People with disabilities can powerfully contribute to our state’s workforce and we will all benefit from this advancement. New York must do better.
My bill 05815 passed the Assembly this session, requiring an annual report on the participation of individuals with disabilities in New York state contracts. This data would provide greater transparency and help create equitable representation for all New Yorkers in our state workforce. Currently, the federal government collects information from its contractors regarding the number of people with disabilities they employ. This bill establishes a similar reporting requirement to generate data that can be used to inform policymaking to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities who are overrepresented in the unemployed population. Unfortunately, this bill did not hit the floor of the Senate but we hope advocacy efforts will aid its passage in the Assembly and Senate next year.
Additionally, I have proposed a bill based on a policy implemented by President Obama in 2010 which set a goal of 7 percent utilization for people with disabilities in federal employment. My bill A2458 sets that same 7 percent goal for the state legislature, state agencies, including SUNY and CUNY, state sub-contractors earning over $10,000, state courts, and the judiciary with 50 or more employees. All state contracts would contain language requiring state contractors and subcontractors to advance the employment of individuals with disabilities at all levels of employment and to annually evaluate if they are meeting this benchmark. This annual evaluation would include an analysis of agency personnel practices, including outreach and recruitment efforts. Teams will use this data to determine new strategies if goals are not met.
Now is the time to act and support folks with disabilities by increasing transparency on state employment statistics and setting a seven percent goal for disability employment in state contracts. Thirty years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) the overall hiring of people with disabilities remains roughly at 34 percent. According to a 2019 RespectAbility.org Report, New York State ranked 38th in the U.S. in employment for people with disabilities. With a greater understanding and awareness of the talents that this community has to offer we can achieve equal access in the workplace.