Window On Washington: How You Can Help Your Governor
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Window On Washington: How You Can Help Your Governor

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the President of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream. She works regularly with disability organizations, national, state and local policy leaders, workforce development professionals, media, employers, philanthropists, celebrities and faith-based organizations in order to expand opportunities for people with disabilities. Mizrahi has led numerous national polls and brought significant visibility to the issues of America’s 56 million citizens with disabilities. She is the co-author of a major toolkit on best practices on employment for people with disabilities and frequently hosts webinars on this topic. Mizrahi has published dozens of op-eds and publications on disability issues, including in USA Today, Huffington Post, The Hill and other publications. Dyslexic herself, she also knows what it means to parent a child with multiple disabilities. Reach her at JenniferM@RespectAbilityUSA.org.

Today in Milwaukee, governors from across the country will meet for the National Governors Association summer meeting, and I am thrilled to tell you that they share our goal of of empowering people with disabilities to achieve the American dream by working in a real job for a real wage.

Earlier this year, the NGA publicly committed themselves to this vision with their initiative, “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities,” which aims to increase employment among individuals with disabilities by involving the business community in training, job placement and work-based support and giving state offcials better policy options for assessment and strategies.

Such a plan is exciting, but it wouldn’t be necessary if we didn’t have much to do. 70 percent of Americans with disabilities are outside the workforce. That’s exactly the same as it was before the ADA was passed in 1990. As of March 2012, the poverty rate of working-age people with disabilities was 29 percent, compared to 13 percent for their counterparts without disabilities. The vast majority of people with disabilities say that they want to work at least part time, but our safety net programs punish people for working and saving money by demanding that they adhere to extreme income and asset limits.

Here are more ideas for what governors, not to mention representatives and senators, can do. Please consider contacting your representatives and/or your local media and sharing these ideas with them.

• Lead a statewide summit on disability employment that includes companies, non-profits, faith leaders, media, government and philanthropists. We want to break the deadlock of poor performance by meaningful public-private partnerships and new thinking.

• Use their office and leadership to promote progress through personal statements/op-eds on the importance of making America stronger by harnessing the talents of Americans of ALL abilities.

• Enable their states to make a specific commitment to improving the numbers of people with disabilities who are employed in a real job for a real wage, as well as for disability owned businesses to be created and expanded through best practices, state procurement and other policies.

• Support that we move from a broken system of “from cradle to couch” to a successful model of “from cradle to job.” This would mean that public school and other services, including transition efforts, are geared toward successful employment opportunities and that schools be measured on their success.

• Have their new disability jobs/new business summit create a public-private partnership/task force reporting directly to then in order to achieve specific employment goals.

• Make a pledge to hold people accountable for better outcomes in the public and private sectors so Americans with disabilities in each state can be empowered to achieve the American dream.

It’s time for the facts below to change and we welcome your leadership and partnership! I look forward to hearing your ideas and to partnering with you towards a better future. Feel free to write me at jenniferm@RespectAbilityUSA.org. Thank you for sharing your time and talent!

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is the president of RespectAbilityUSA, a new non-profit, and co-director of the Mizrahi Family Charitable Trust. She is dyslexic and could not read and write well until she was 12.

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