Trenton – Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senators Vin Gopal and Fred Madden today said government, supporting agencies and businesses need to work together to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the wake of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has been hard on everyone and even harder on people with disabilities,” Senate President Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland) said during a Zoom roundtable panel with advocates and service providers. “The shutdowns have kept those with disabilities from attending the service programs, jobs and activities that are so vital. Now that vaccines are available, it is important that people with disabilities are made a priority.
“Despite much progress, people with disabilities in New Jersey still struggle to seek employment opportunities and be represented in all aspects of life,” Senator Sweeney said. “The jobless rate for persons with a disability continues to be about twice as high as the rate for those without a disability and people with disabilities live in poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities.”
“Those in our community challenged by disabilities are and have long been a great and yet often under-utilized part of our state’s workforce,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “It is incumbent upon us to not only look for ways to expand employment opportunities for this population, but also make sure we explore ways to break down transportation obstacles that may be standing in their way of pursuing them. When our residents with disabilities are able to thrive and prosper in our state’s modern economy, so do we all; let us remember that as we began to discuss these important issues.”
“People with disabilities have a right, like anyone else, to participate as independent members of society, including being able to hold employment,” said Senator Madden (D-Camden/Gloucester). “And yet, many of these individuals struggle to find a job due to the lack of inclusion by many employers. That is why I am working on legislation to study this underemployment and help to implement strategies to expand the efforts of state agencies to recruit and retain individuals with disabilities. We need more inclusive workplaces across the board, but it is our responsibility to lead by example here in the public sector and then do what we can to encourage private entities to follow suit.”
Tom Baffuto, executive director of The Arc of New Jersey, thanked Senator Sweeney “for recognizing employment as a critical priority for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and for engaging with stakeholders to determine the best ways for expanding employment opportunities and creating inclusive state policy.
“We believe all individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities can work with the proper supports and services and as an Employment First State, New Jersey must ensure that everyone is given the opportunity and assistance they need to succeed in the workforce,” Baffuto said. “We look forward to working with the Senate President on initiatives and ideas at the Roundtable and in the weeks and months ahead.”
Also participating in the Zoom roundtable were Michael Soriano, Mayor, Parsippany-Troy Hills; Michael Andreas, Executive Director, Jewish Vocational Service of MetroWest; Karen Carroll, State Director, New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services; Brian Fitzgerald, President and CEO, Easterseals of New Jersey; Keith Kearney, Executive Director, Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities; Floyd Nesse, Vice President Government Affairs, ACCSES-NJ; and Allen A. Weston II, Legislative Director, New Jersey Association of Counties.