Helping Untapped Talent Pool Rejoin the Workforce: Good for Workers, Businesses, and Economy

February 22, 2019

The current strong job market could be even stronger if the untapped talent pool of people with disabilities gets tapped! Americans with disabilities, many of whom worked before their illnesses or injuries, are often eager to return to work, but are overwhelmed by the process. That’s why AAPD has joined with other disability advocates and organizations to form the Secure Work Coalition (SWC).

The Coalition aims to help disabled individuals who want to get back into the workforce. The good news is there are many resources available, though underutilized. The Coalition is particularly focused on increasing awareness and utilization of the Ticket to Work program for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries. The challenge is making sure those who need the help know it’s available to them.

AAPD has always worked to advance disability inclusion in the workplace and eliminate systemic and attitudinal barriers to ensure more people with disabilities are entering and re-entering the workforce. The SWC, our summer internship and mentor programs, as well as our Disability Equality Index are just a few examples of how we work to achieve these objectives. Recently, we co-produced a report by Accenture, “Getting to Equal: The Disability Inclusion Advantage,” which found there are 15.1 million people of working age living with disabilities in the U.S. The research suggests that if companies embrace disability inclusion, they will gain access to a new talent pool of more than 10.7 million people.

And yet, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double the national average for those without disabilities, 9 percent versus to 4.2 percent in January 2019.

According to a survey by Allsup, another Coalition member, 52 percent of SSDI beneficiaries say they want to work. Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) found that only 30 percent of disability beneficiaries even know the Ticket to Work program is available to help them make the transition back to work and maintain their benefits as they do so.

If you are not familiar with the Ticket to Work and other work incentive programs, know that it provides a wide range of return to work assistance at no cost. This includes benefits and career counseling, vocational rehabilitation, and job placement services and training from SSA-authorized service providers. These providers include Employment Networks (ENs), Workforce Employment Networks (WFs), and State Vocational Rehabilitation (VRs) agencies. These entities partner with the federal government to give program participants individualized assistance as they navigate the process to return to work.

According to the Accenture report, “U.S. organizations are successfully employing persons with disabilities and initiating and developing their disability inclusion programs.” A recent Wall Street Journal article, America’s Hidden Workforce Returns, spotlighted this trend.

Both workers and their employers win when disabled individuals go back to work. The benefits include increased productivity in the workforce, additional revenues to shore up the disability benefits system and, of course, the personal and professional fulfillment of returning to a job. More can and should be done to make programs like Ticket to Work known to those who could use the assistance. SWC believes that helping potential workers return to the workforce should be a top priority at every level of government.

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AAPD is a member of the the Secure Work Coalition, which aims to protect and improve work incentive and benefits counseling programs within Social Security such as Ticket to Work (TTW) that help beneficiaries of Social Security disability programs to return to work.

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