Governor’s Column: Employing People With Disabilities
Employing People With Disabilities
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
My mom and dad took pride in self-reliance and taught me the value of hard work. They both worked hard on our family farm, and when the farm went upside-down financially, they both took jobs as janitors at Augustana College to make ends meet.
Mom and Dad were also both deaf, but their inability to hear did not prevent them from working to support my sisters and me. They taught us that all work has dignity and that idleness is not an option. Their disability led them to develop higher levels of determination and persistence.
In 2013, about 65 percent of Americans with disabilities were not working or looking for work. In South Dakota, that number is about 51 percent.
Even though our unemployment rate for those with disabilities is much lower than other states’, it’s still too high. There are too many South Dakotans with disabilities who want a job but can’t find one.
My goal is to make South Dakota an “employment first state.” This means making employment the first priority and the preferred outcome for our citizens with disabilities.
As a result of the Employment Works Task Force I established in 2013, the Department of Human Services is now providing technical assistance to employers and connecting them with qualified individuals. I am also challenging the state of South Dakota to become a model employer of people with disabilities.
As a part of this employment first effort, we’re striving to show employers what Walmart, Camille’s Sidewalk Café in Sioux Falls, Larson Manufacturing and SDSU in Brookings, Black Hills Corporation and many other businesses already know. We are a state that faces considerable workforce needs and there is an untapped labor pool comprised of people with disabilities who are ready, willing and completely ABLE to work.
On Tuesday, Aug. 11, the South Dakota Retailers Association is partnering with the Department of Human Services to host a webinar to guide employers through the process of finding and hiring people with disabilities. That same day, the Department of Human Services is launching an awareness campaign called “Ability for Hire.” This campaign aims to educate employers about the benefits of hiring those with disabilities, and to change misperceptions about them.
South Dakota is making definite progress in this arena, but there is always more to be done. I urge all South Dakotans to pitch in on this issue – to hire more qualified workers with disabilities; to support businesses in their efforts to employ people with disabilities; and to prepare youth for an expectation of a lifetime of work rather than public support. You can also help spread the word about AbilityForHire.com when it launches Aug. 11.
The experiences of businesses like Camille’s and Black Hills Corporation demonstrate that change is possible. These businesses are proving that employing people with disabilities is not an act of charity or sympathy; it’s enlightened self-interest at its very best. It enriches and diversifies our workforce. It’s good for business and good for taxpayers. Best of all, it provides a willing worker an opportunity for the self-respect earned through personal achievement.