Allison Chase Your Turn
September 30, 2022
Many young people dream about what career they’ll go into. In Melisa Lewis’s case, it was healthcare and she refused to let her auditory processing deficit and hearing loss keep her from achieving that dream.
Melisa participated in The Able Trust’s High School High Tech program, finding in that program the support she needed to progress toward her career goals. She ultimately graduated magna cum laude from the University of Central Florida College of Nursing.
Melisa’s success serves as just one reminder – for some, perhaps a revelation – that persons with disabilities can thrive and contribute in any career field. Since 1988, October has been recognized as Disability Employment Awareness Month (DEAM). The celebration honors the tremendous contributions persons with disabilities make to our workforce.
Yet despite this annual recognition, there remains a roughly 40 percentage point gap in nationwide labor force participation between those who have a disability and those who do not. Florida is no exception; just 20.4% of working-age Floridians with disabilities are employed, compared to 63% of similar residents without disabilities. That employment percentage is the third-lowest of any state in the U.S.
While October is an important and opportune time to raise awareness about this gap, The Able Trust works year-round building more inclusive, equitable workplace cultures for people with disabilities. Our organization aims to take Florida from one of the least inclusive states in terms of disability employment to one of the most inclusive states.
This increased inclusivity would have an undeniable economic impact as well as a cultural one. Recent data shows there are nearly 500,000 unfilled jobs in Florida alone, with forecasts indicating substantial growth in new jobs between now and 2030. The confluence of the need for quality workers and a more diverse, inclusive workforce presents a tremendous opportunity.
To that end, The Able Trust has set a goal of increasing the labor force participation rate of Floridians with disabilities by 10 percentage points over the next decade. We recently released a report that illustrates an increase of that measure would add more than 300,000 workers to the state’s workforce. That translates to an estimated $1.08 billion increase in state tax revenues and a $111.78 billion economic impact over the course of the 10-year period.
So how can employers and community leaders help, both this month and beyond? The first step is understanding the wide array of experience and skills persons with disabilities have to offer. Furthermore, this data informs the importance of considering this non-traditional source of labor for your organization. When you are ready to take the first step, The Able Trust has a wide variety of resources and tips at www.abletrust.org for your convenience.
Melisa Lewis is already a rock star in the nursing field. A year after she completed her RN degree, her hospital awarded her the title of Neuroscience Floor Rookie of the Year. With your support, many more Floridians with disabilities can find similar success in their career fields.
Allison Chase is the President & CEO at the Florida Endowment Foundation for Vocational Rehabilitation, known as The Able Trust. For over 25 years, she has dedicated her career to employment of people with disabilities.