[caption id="attachment_3652" align="aligncenter" width="500"] NGA Chair Jack Markell speaks to the governors about his initiative which will work to help advance employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.[/caption] Delaware Governor Jack Markell will use his year as chair of the National Governor’s Association (NGA) to focus on ways states can increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, he announced during the closing session of the NGA annual meeting, which took place in Williamsburg, Virginia, last Sunday. We had mentioned Governor Markell’s participation in last month’s CEO Summit in Windsor, Connecticut, that was organized by Walgreens. The retail drugstore chain highlighted its increase in the number of employees with disabilities working in their distribution centers, while other companies such as UPS, Proctor & Gamble, IBM, and Best Buy shared similar success stories. The NGA press release notes Markell’s attendance to the summit as a building block for much of what he hopes to achieve. It also contains a link to a downloadable PDF of A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities pamphlet that was distributed to attendees. Markell also spoke at length about his experience at the summit to The Huffington Post state politics reporter John Celock for his Sunday story about the Governor assuming the NGA chairmanship. Markell says the success stories he heard there will help demonstrate the value of recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. He outlined his approach to Celock thusly:
Markell plans to convene a series of regional meetings around the country to meet with business leaders and advocates for the disabled in order to review what is working and what isn't. He said he intends to use the forums to develop blueprints for governors on how to implement the good ideas in their states.Yesterday, Governor Markell signed into law a bill that gave his own state of Delaware an “Employment First” policy with regards to providing services for people with disabiltiies. Mark Fowser’s story on NewsWorks.org says that the measure will require state agencies to consider competitive employment for this population and establishes a commission to review objectives and goals, much like similar efforts seen recently in Wisconsin and New Jersey. (Massachusetts has had an “Employment First” law since 2010.) Markell’s remarks in both the NGA press release and to Celock show a clear understanding that the public and private sectors need to work together to make his initiative outlined in A Better Bottom Line successful, and having his own state set such an example is a critical first step. At the end of his Huffington Post article, Celock calls Markell’s initiative “a departure” from the broader topics other NGA chairs have previously undertaken, such as infrastructure and economic development. While Markell correctly asserts that the narrower focus gives him an opportunity to make a more profound impact, it seems that Celock may not be considering the big-picture benefits of employing people with disabilities; which include easing the burden on social services, expanding the U.S. taxpayer base, improving workplace productivity, diversity and employee retention, and appealing to a population that represents over $1 trillion in discretionary spending. Those are all benefits brought to the broader society before we even begin to account for the merits of how hiring people with disabilities helps make life matter more for every individual with disability that can look forward to going to a job each day. We look forward to tracking the progress of Governor Markell’s initiative. Comments?