Five-Bill Package Aims to Enhance Their Ability to Become Major Contributors to the Workforce, Become Economically Self-Sufficient, and Live Independently
Seeking to expand opportunities for New Jerseyans with disabilities, Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Essex) introduced a five-bill legislative package to address gaps in the workforce, boost support of persons with disabilities-owned businesses and create a level of oversight and accountability with regard to hiring practices and appropriate accommodations.
According to the New Jersey Department of Human Services website, national statistics show that about one in five people have a disability, including an estimated 1.7 million residents in New Jersey. Statistics also show that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is about 14%.
“Through the experiences of my sister, Tomikica Waller, I have witnessed many of the challenges persons with disabilities face in finding adequate employment despite her intellectual ability to fulfill job duties,” said Speight. “Despite Tomikica’s battle with multiple sclerosis, my sister has forged ahead and is currently on track to complete her graduate studies. Her story may be one of the exceptions, but what she has gone through to get here shines a light on the stories of many New Jerseyans with disabilities who seek to find gainful employment and career opportunities.
“The pandemic has shown businesses how to make necessary adjustments for workers, such as allowing people to work from home. This proves we’re able to make accommodations that can benefit people who have disabilities to increase their ability to serve in the workforce. There’s a pressing need to do more to ensure New Jersey’s workforce is inclusive of people with disabilities. This is exactly what these bills will help to do: open the doors to economic opportunity and financial independence for all residents.”
Speight intends for the legislation to work alongside existing statewide efforts to expand opportunities for people with disabilities.
Among the five measures in the bill package:
• (A-5294) Establishes a fast-track hiring and advancement employment opportunity program for qualified persons with significant disabilities. The program would enable appointing authorities to more effectively and efficiently hire, promote, retain, and advance qualified individuals whose physical or mental impairments impact their ability to participate in the competitive hiring and promotion process within the State workforce.
• (A-5296) Requires the Division of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action, and the Civil Service Commission, to develop a State as a Model Employer of People with Disabilities (SAME) program to increase awareness of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, provide appropriate avenues, and remove barriers to the application and hiring process, and create mechanisms to increase retention rates for persons with disabilities employed in the State workforce.
• (A-5298) Extends certain provisions of law that require affirmative action goals, workforce analysis, and data collection in public works contracts for racial and ethnic minorities to include individuals with disabilities. Establishes a recruitment and referral program to connect college students, recent graduates, and other workers with disabilities with private sector employers offering summer or permanent jobs.
• (A-5299) Provides that disability-owned businesses be included in certain State programs, the certification process by the Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services, and for monitoring by the Chief Diversity Officer of the State. Incorporates disability-owned businesses within the Office of Minority, Disabled Veterans, and Women Medical Cannabis Business Development.
• (A-5300) Creates a State contract set-aside program for businesses owned and operated by persons with disabilities by adding a new three percent set-aside program for disability-owned business enterprises in addition to other State set-aside programs.
The bills are awaiting referral to a committee.