02.08.22

Senator Murray Leads Hearing on Boosting Employment for People with Disabilities

Senator Murray: “What’s promising is that during this pandemic, we’ve seen a widespread use of inclusive practices that can make work more accessible … This is great news—so we need to act on the lessons of this pandemic if we want to ensure that recent progress is a foundation for lasting change.”

 

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, led a hearing on overcoming barriers to employment for workers with disabilities and building on recent progress, including the widespread use of inclusive practices to make work more accessible—like flexible schedules and remote options.

 

The hearing marked the first hearing on disability employment since the Committee last discussed the topic in 2014—but many of the challenges workers with disabilities faced then still persist today. In the hearing, Senator Murray highlighted how workers with disabilities c0ntinue to face unacceptable wage discrimination, inaccessible workplaces, damagingly low—and false—expectations about what they can accomplish, and ableism and discrimination in hiring.

 

“In the aftermath of this pandemic, workers with disabilities aren’t just grappling with lost wages, job loss, and long-term unemployment. They are still facing other longstanding barriers to joining the workforce, participating in their communities, and obtaining economic self-sufficiency,” said Senator Murray. “Barriers like ableism, damagingly low—and false—expectations about what they can accomplish and discrimination in the hiring process …. Barriers like inaccessible workplaces whether that’s the result of a lack of physical accessibility or challenges accessing digital information and assistive technology. And barriers like unacceptable pay discrimination. People with disabilities are paid 87 cents on the dollar compared to workers without disabilities—and that’s not even accounting for workers who are paid subminimum wages.”

 

But Senator Murray also highlighted recent promising progress— including a steady rise in the employment rate of people with disabilities—as we’ve seen a more widespread use of inclusive practices and innovations that can make work more accessible. She noted how these accommodations—like flexible scheduling, alternative work arrangements, and telework—are some of the most requested, and according to a recent survey of employers, cost nothing to provide.

 

“By embracing inclusive practices and improving accessibility, businesses can increase their talent pool by more than 10 million people. What’s more, employing people with disabilities has been shown to reduce turnover, and increase productivity. What’s promising is that during this pandemic, we’ve seen a widespread use of inclusive practices that can make work more accessible, and recently there has been a steady rise in the employment rate for people with disabilities,” continued Senator Murray. “This is great news—so we need to act on the lessons of this pandemic if we want to ensure that recent progress is a foundation for lasting change.”

 

In addition to urging employers to embrace inclusive practices and continue providing reasonable accommodations, Senator Murray also noted that she hopes the Committee can work in a bipartisan way to address barriers to employment for people with disabilities—as they have already done to advance the Assistive Technology Act out of Committee.

 

“I continue to work with my colleagues to get this legislation passed into law and I hope we can work in a similar, bipartisan way on challenges like ending wage discrimination and workplace segregation for workers with disabilities, and providing them with the training and support they need to succeed in competitive, integrated employment,” said Senator Murray.

 

The hearing included testimony from Dr. Lisa Schur, Professor, Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ; Ms. Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft in Redmond, WA; Mr. Francis A. Kineavy, a Disability Advocate from Sea Girt, NJ; and Mr. Brian Dennis, Workforce Program Coordinator of Disability Services at Iowa Workforce Development in Des Moines, IA.

 

Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

 

“This pandemic has been hard on workers across the country. They have been worried, they have been sick, they’ve had to care for loved ones who got sick, or find child care after a school closed, they’ve lost wages, jobs, and opportunities.

 

“And while we’ve recently made great progress in our economic recovery—with unemployment down to four percent—we are far from done. Workers are still struggling to get the training, education, and support they need to find good-paying jobs.

 

“And for workers with disabilities, these challenges have been even greater. Some people with disabilities are at even higher risk of severe COVID, and are over-represented in essential jobs that put them at higher risk of exposure.

 

“And in the aftermath of this pandemic, workers with disabilities aren’t just grappling with lost wages, job loss, and long-term unemployment.

 

“They are still facing other longstanding barriers to joining the workforce, participating in their communities, and obtaining economic self-sufficiency.

 

“Barriers like ableism, damagingly low—and false—expectations about what they can accomplish and discrimination in the hiring process. In 2020, disability discrimination was the basis for more than one-third of all charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

 

“Barriers like inaccessible workplaces whether that’s the result of a lack of physical accessibility or challenges accessing digital information and assistive technology.

 

“And barriers like unacceptable pay discrimination. People with disabilities are paid 87 cents on the dollar compared to workers without disabilities—and that’s not even accounting for workers who are paid subminimum wages.

 

“These barriers add up to a devastating effect. The poverty rate for people with disabilities is a whopping 26 percent, that’s unacceptable.

 

“And the challenges that make it hard for people with disabilities to participate in the workforce aren’t just a problem for them—they are bad for working families, bad for our communities, and even bad for businesses too.

 

“At the same time our economy is growing and demand for workers is high, there are millions of working-age people in our country who have a disability and want to participate in our economy, be financially independent, and get a good job but almost half of them report facing a barrier to employment.

 

“By embracing inclusive practices and improving accessibility, businesses can increase their talent pool by more than 10 million people. What’s more, employing people with disabilities has been shown to reduce turnover, and increase productivity.

 

“What’s promising is that during this pandemic, we’ve seen a widespread use of inclusive practices that can make work more accessible, and recently there has been a steady rise in the employment rate for people with disabilities.

 

“This is great news—so we need to act on the lessons of this pandemic if we want to ensure that recent progress is a foundation for lasting change. This pandemic has shown how innovative practices can boost accessibility in our workforce programs and in businesses across the country.

 

“Flexible scheduling has helped workers with disabilities and chronic illnesses adjust their work hours in order to take care of their needs. Remote options have helped address challenges with accessibility, helped workers who might struggle to commute and made technology like closed captioning for video meetings more common.

 

“Accommodations like flexible scheduling, alternate work arrangements, and telework—are some of the most requested. And according to a recent survey of employers, most accommodations cost nothing to provide. This is progress we should be building on—and where we have a history of bipartisanship.

 

“My friend, the late Senator Johnny Isakson cared deeply about these issues, and I was proud to work with him on this Committee to support people with disabilities through legislation like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. And the spirit of bipartisanship he brought to these issues remains.

 

“I know Senator Hassan, Senator Casey, Senator Cassidy, Senator Collins, and so many others remain committed to this work. As is shown by the Committee’s bipartisan vote last year to advance legislation reauthorizing the Assistive Technology Act which will help increase access to wheelchair ramps, screen readers, hearing aids, and other assistive technologies that help people live fully in their communities and access, obtain, and maintain employment.

 

“I continue to work with my colleagues to get this legislation passed into law and I hope we can work in a similar, bipartisan way on challenges like ending wage discrimination and workplace segregation for workers with disabilities, and providing them with the training and support they need to succeed in competitive, integrated employment.

 

“Ernesto, a worker with a disability from my home state of Washington, shared with me last year how this kind of support made a difference in his life. In August, he enrolled in the Basic Food Employment and Training program. With the new skills he gained through the program, he quickly managed to get not just one job offer—but two.

 

“And Ernesto’s experience is just one example of how these programs help people with disabilities get competitive, integrated job opportunities, gain financial independence, and participate more fully in our communities.

 

“There are so many more people in Washington state, and across the country, who care about this. Right now, one in four Americans have a disability, and more and more workers are identifying as having a disability due to long-COVID.

 

“It should be obvious that we can’t build back stronger, fairer and more accessible if we leave over a quarter of our nation behind. We must do everything we can to include everyone we can in our country’s future, instead of returning to a “normal” that didn’t work for so many people in the first place.

 

“And I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses about how we do that. Now I’ll turn it over to Senator Burr for his opening remarks.”

 

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