With the objective of expanding employment opportunities for New Jersey residents with disabilities, Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Monmouth) recently introduced a package of four bills to increase resources and services for people with disabilities to find quality jobs and potentially become more involved in their communities.
“People with disabilities face a wide range of challenges in the workforce,” said Downey. “They may need specialized training, counseling and other support in order to find and retain a job they love. These bills aim to make the process easier for people with disabilities and their prospective employers.”
The legislative package includes A-4872, which would establish a public awareness campaign concerning persons with disabilities and employment; A-4873 would require the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development to design and make available a public webpage with employment information for individuals with disabilities; A-4874 would require the Division of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action create “Model Employer for People with Disabilities” program for State government; and A-4875 would direct New Jersey State Rehabilitation Council to conduct a study to identify trends and gaps in employment of individuals with disabilities.
An estimated 1.7 million people in New Jersey have a disability, and the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is about 14 percent, according to the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
To learn more about employment for those with disabilities, including those with autism, cerebral palsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other conditions, Assemblywoman Downey recently took a tour of the Center for Vocational Rehabilitation (CVR) in Eatontown, Monmouth County. The center offers a variety of employment and internship services for people with disabilities, from job coaching to supported employment programs to training opportunities in the on-site production center.
“The CVR changes the lives of people with disabilities every day,” said Downey. “Everyone should have access to fulfilling employment that gives them a sense of purpose. The legislation I’ve proposed will help individuals with disabilities find programs like those offered by the CVR, and continue to grow those services.”
Russell Anderson, President and CEO of the Center for Vocational Rehabilitation, supports Downey’s efforts to bring issues surrounding disability employment to the forefront, particularly in the form of a public awareness campaign as proposed in the bill package.
“That is definitely a plus for our participants with special needs, whereas this underutilized population will benefit from a public awareness campaign due to the outreach to employers and the community,” said Anderson. “This will help enable our special needs participants to become more engaged in the workforce thus becoming a positive contributor to our economy.”
In addition to her work to expand access to employment for individuals with disabilities, Downey recently introduced a bill (AR-204) aimed to benefit the special needs community. The measure would urge the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics to designate Direct Support Professionals as a Standard Occupational Classification, with the goal of capturing accurate data on DSPs who provide extensive services for those with disabilities.