How Wisconsin is embracing workers with disabilities

Our state unemployment rate is lower than the national average, our labor force participation rate is outpacing the national rate, and the amount of individuals employed in Wisconsin reached a record high in 2016. Employers are expanding their operations in Wisconsin, and our state’s best-in-class workforce is one significant reason. A vital component of that workforce includes workers with disabilities, and Governor Walker has proclaimed October as Disability Employment Awareness Month to recognize the integral role disabled workers have in Wisconsin’s economy.

At the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), our Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) helps thousands of workers with disabilities achieve their employment goals every year. In federal fiscal year 2015, nearly 5,000 individuals with disabilities reached their employment goals. These are individuals who have achieved greater independence and today experience the dignity that comes from work and earning a paycheck. I attend a variety of events across the state and meet DVR consumers, and they clearly love their job, they appreciate how DVR allows them to be more active and involved in their communities, and they love working.

Beyond the traditional DVR services, Wisconsin is one of 11 states taking part in a federal grant-supported project to help youth with disabilities and their families achieve a stronger financial future without the need for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) assistance. Hundreds of participating youths across the state and their families are receiving DVR services and additional support, such as financial literacy, workforce resources and job opportunities, and other resources. This program is already changing lives and we look forward to showcasing some of its success stories in the future.

I am proud of the contributions of our DVR staff, the accomplishments of DVR consumers, and the Wisconsin businesses across the state that recognize that an inclusive workforce means a better bottom line not only for the worker but for their business, as well. Statistics show that individuals are more likely to patronize a business if they employ individuals with disabilities, and without these employers stepping up to the plate DVR’s programs and services wouldn’t have nearly the impact on Wisconsin’s economy as they do.

The achievements of individuals with disabilities should be celebrated every day. Let’s join Governor Walker in recognizing the hard work and dedication of workers with disabilities throughout the month of October, and if you know someone who may be interested in DVR services, please let them know that DWD stands ready to put them on the path to achieving their dream of independence and attaining gainful employment.

Ray Allen is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

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