WASHINGTON, DC (September 26, 2013) -- U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued a four-point plan to create 250,000 new job opportunities for the "ADA Generation," young adults with disabilities aged 16 to 19, by 2015. Harkin called for eliminating a Social Security requirement that people with disabilities forgo work in order to qualify for benefits.
Harkin, who authored the landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), said his "greatest source of optimism" for increased disability employment comes from the current generation of young adults who came of age following the enactment of the ADA. His recommendations are included in a new report, "High Expectations: Transforming the American Workforce as the ADA Generation Comes of Age."
"These youth and young adults, or the “ADA Generation” as I call them, have attained unprecedented education levels in inclusive settings and have an expectation to be included as valued members of the American workforce," said Harkin. "As Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, I am concerned that America is failing to fully leverage the talents of this generation and the investment we have made in these young people. Let’s not waste this historic opportunity to welcome these talented and motivated youth and young adults into the competitive labor force."
Harkin's report was issued as Autism Speaks conducts a series of nationwide Small Business Initiative Town Hall meetings to help increase local hiring of people with autism and other disabilities. Upcoming town halls are scheduled in Scottsdale, AZ on Monday, September 30, and in Los Angeles next Wednesday, October 2. Also, download the Transition Tool Kit.
Harkin noted that the employment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds with disabilities is half that of their peers, whereas the gap among 16- to 19-year olds is much closer at 10 to 15 percent.
"If we can ensure youth in this age group are hired at the same rate as their peers, and provide them with the support they need to remain successful in the workplace, we can make tremendous progress toward providing equal opportunity to all," he said. The Senator called for an increase of 250,000 young adults with disabilities into the workforce by the end of 2015.
Harkin recommended four steps to increase employment opportunities:
Increase support for high school students as they transition into the workforce
The age when school districts are required to start transition planning should be lowered from 16 to 14, and state vocational rehabilitation agencies should be required to allocate 15 percent of their budgets to transition planning, Harkin said. In addition, he urged the creation of more employment and internship opportunities during school years.
Improve the transition of the ADA Generation into postsecondary education and the job market
Harkin said young adults should be better matched with appropriate postsecondary opportunities, whether certificate programs, career and technical training opportunities, community colleges, or two- and four-year degree programs. He cited Washington state's "Employment First" program which sets an expectation that young adults with disabilities will work alongside their peers.
Eliminate requirements in disability benefit programs that discourage young people with disabilities from working
The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs need to be modernized by eliminating the requirement that young adults with disabilities cannot and will not be able to work in order to receive benefits. "This requirement creates disincentives for young people with disabilities who are compelled to choose between forgoing benefits and launching a career, or forgoing work in order to receive benefits and attend to their daily support and healthcare needs," Harkin said.
Leverage employer demand, correct misconceptions about employing people with disabilities, build strong pipelines from school to the competitive workforce, and establish supportive workplaces
"At the same time the business community is looking for skilled employees, we are graduating members of the ADA Generation who have had more access to and more success in education than any previous generation," Harkin said.