Alexandra McArthur is being honored as a Disability Employment Champion of Change.
I love my job. As an Associate Consultant at the Taproot Foundation, I work with the country’s top companies to help them build high-impact corporate pro bono programs. I enable companies to use their most important resources, their people, to support nonprofits that are strengthening our communities. My position is challenging, fulfilling, and provides me with a livelihood. Seems pretty lucky, right?
As a person with a disability, a member of a population where only one out of three of adults ages 18-64 are employed, I’m more than lucky. Barriers, such as poor inclusion training, inaccessible workplaces, benefit systems that disincentive savings, and lack of financial literacy, are keeping talented persons with disabilities out of the workforce. Thus the poverty rate for people with disabilities is nearly double the U.S. national poverty rate.
This is why I work to reduce these barriers and change these statistics. In 2011, I was chosen as Ms. Wheelchair America on a platform of promoting workplace inclusion. In this position, I traveled across the nation to speak with corporations, associations, diversity groups, government officials, and job-seekers about how every sector can benefit from the talent, perspective, dedication, and creativity that people with disabilities bring to and encourage in their workplaces.
As a Co-Chair of the Junior Board of Resources for Children with Special Needs, I’ve helped to expose over 60 young professionals to the often-overlooked needs of the disability community. The Junior Board meets regularly to advocate for policy changes, volunteer with youth with disabilities, and to raise money for the organization. I’m thrilled that this year we chose disability employment as our advocacy focus. The board members now know how to make their workplaces, which include schools, investment firms, media agencies, just to name a few, more open to hiring people with disabilities and more accommodating to employees with disabilities.
There is much more work to be done to make improvements in the disability employment statistics, which have remained essentially unchanged since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act nearly 25 years ago. Workforce development programs must integrate specialized programming for people with disabilities. Employers need training about the positive ways hiring people with disabilities impacts their bottom line, in addition to tangible strategies and avenues for recruiting people with disabilities. The disability community needs specialized financial literacy education.
But perhaps the most significant change needed is currently sitting in the hands of our lawmakers: the ABLE Act. Presently, a person with a disability who receives Social Security benefits cannot have more than $2,000 to their name without losing those benefits. $2,000. Total. The ABLE Act will provide the option for people with disabilities on benefits to earn a living and save for crucial expenses, such as retirement or medical equipment. Thus, it will allow gainful employment to be a realistic option and a true avenue for wealth accrual for people with disabilities.
I envision a world where people with disabilities are seen as assets in the workplace and are represented in the middle class. Through workforce development, financial education, and passing of the ABLE Act, let’s take steps together to make this vision a reality.
Alexandra McArthur is a Senior Associate Consultant at the Taproot Foundation and was Ms. Wheelchair America 2011.