The ADA turns 25

As ADA Turns 25, More People with Disabilities are Working, says Kessler Foundation

Published: July 26, 2015 10:45 a.m. ET

WEST ORANGE, NJ, Jul 26, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE via COMTEX) —

Today marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Kessler Foundation supports full inclusion for people with disabilities by researching optimal ways of restoring function to individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities and by funding innovative employment initiatives. To commemorate this ADA milestone, the Foundation released a national survey – the first if its kind – raised awareness of the importance of inclusivity in the workforce, explored new strategies for grant funding and participated in ADA-related activities.

“The ADA removed physical barriers that prevented access to community activities, education and employment for nearly 57 million Americans with disabilities,” said Rodger DeRose, president and chief executive officer of Kessler Foundation. “Now, more are graduating from institutions of higher education and participating in work-related activities. But employment still lags. At Kessler Foundation, we are committed to supporting employment initiatives across the nation so that more Americans with disabilities earn a paycheck and contribute to the economy. If we continue to work together—legislators, employers, nonprofits, government agencies and individuals with disabilities—we can create lasting change that turns the ideals behind the ADA into realities.”

Last month, the Foundation released the 2015 Kessler Foundation National Employment and Disability Survey—the first nationally representative survey to examine the workplace experiences of Americans with disabilities. DeRose discussed survey results on C-SPAN, NJTV and other national and state outlets. Conducted by the University of New Hampshire, 3,013 individuals with disabilities, aged 18 to 64, were surveyed. The key finding: nearly 69 percent are working or involved in work-related activities, including preparing for the workplace and job hunting. Elaine E. Katz, MS, CCC-SLP, and John O’Neill, Ph.D., of Kessler Foundation, and Andrew J. Houtenville, Ph.D., presented the results in a webinar, “Striving to Work and Overcoming Barriers,” for the Council on Foundations.

While employees with disabilities are working an average of 35.5 hours per week, 60 percent are seeking more hours. Notably, individuals with disabilities are overcoming barriers to employment, including lack of transportation. Needing more education or training was the number one barrier reported when looking for a job; of the 41 percent who reported it, more than 38 percent overcame the obstacle.

To expand job training and employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, Kessler Foundation has distributed $32 million to fund disability employment initiatives across the U.S. since 2005. Social enterprises and public-private partnerships are successful strategies that boost employment. Combining business sense with a nonprofit mission, social enterprises employ people with disabilities who work side-by-side with those without disabilities. Kessler Foundation also funds public-private partnerships, where nonprofits in the disability field partner with major corporations to build a more inclusive workforce. One grant funded a partnership between Ability Beyond and PepsiCo to increase the hiring and retention of people with disabilities in three pilot locations—Texas, Minnesota and Nevada.

“The results of the initiative, known as Pepsi ACT, ‘Achieving Change Together,’ have been impressive,” said DeRose. “So far, 60 individuals with disabilities have been hired and their retention rate is substantially higher than PepsiCo’s average. The success of this project has been recognized by the Secretary of Labor, Tony Perez. Secretary Perez paid a special visit to a call center in North Carolina, just ahead of the ADA Anniversary, to learn more about its success.”

In addition to grant funding, Kessler Foundation also conducts research in disability employment. Researchers recently found that employment outcomes were better among Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries who enrolled with state vocational rehabilitation agencies than those who did not. Dr. O’Neill, director of Employment and Disability Research at Kessler Foundation, is the primary author of, “Return to work of disability insurance beneficiaries who do and do not access state vocational rehabilitation agency services,” published in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies.

To commemorate the ADA, Kessler Foundation leaders reached out through the media to discuss the National Employment and Disability Survey, the buying power of people with disabilities and reasons why people need to unite in efforts to build an inclusive workforce. DeRose’s op-ed, “Employment is priority: People with disabilities have value as workers and consumers,” appears in The Hill—a congressional daily news source. Katz, senior vice president of Grants and Communications, authored two blogs: “Striving to Work,” for the Ruderman Family Foundation, and “Helping Build a More Inclusive Workplace: The 25th Anniversary of the ADA,” for the Council on Foundations.

On Monday, Katz and Liz Lowenstein, chair of Kessler Foundation’s Board of Trustees, joined national disability leaders at the White House ADA celebration. There, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden discussed the impact of the ADA and steps that the government is taking to increase employment for people with disabilities. Katz and Senator Robert Menendez also spoke at a special ADA event, in Bergen County, N.J.

Signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990, the ADA was the first piece of legislation to promote equality for Americans with disabilities. The ADA provides guidelines for access to buildings, education and transportation; reasonable accommodations in the workplace; appropriate interview questions; housing; and other factors relating to disability. Join the conversation at #ADA25.