In this article, you will find information from Respectability, a national organization behind an important initiative aimed at promoting employment and economic opportunity for people with disabilities. Here in Hawaii, Gov. Neil Abercrombie has pledged to put his weight and that of his office behind a statewide campaign to encourage greater employment and economic opportunity for people with disabilities.
Nearly 25 years after the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, unemployment for The US’ 57 million people with disabilities remains at 75%. With the increasing age of the ‘Baby Boomer’ population, economists are predicting a ‘Silver Tsunami’ that will overwhelm the US’ capacity to provide for specialized goods and services needed by these aging people as they are challenged by the sensory, physical, cognitive and emotional challenges that will occur with their increasing age.
in Hawaii, 28% of the population is over the age of 65, with as many as 50% experiencing age related impairments. The fact is that impairments do not have to become disabilities if society accommodates individuals by providing accessibility solutions that will minimize the impact of those impairments. Disability only occurs when society fails to accommodate individuals by bad design, by failing to incorporate universal design principles that then create access problems.
The United States Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement has led the world in promoting full inclusion of all people within all sectors of our society. We are social innovators, and it is imperative that we find new ways to accommodate the workforce to be inclusive of people with accessibility opportunities. We must think of new kinds of businesses that can and will cater to the special requirements of people as they age. The National Governors Association and it’s 55 member governors, territories possessions and protectorates have pledged to use the bully pulpit of their office to get behind an initiative aimed at encouraging greater employment and economic opportunities for people with disabilities. Gov. Neil Abercrombie was one of 27 governors at the table when this initiative was adopted unanimously by the National Association. Just last month I was told by the governor’s Chief of Staff that the governor’s office is beginning to coordinate with various departments of state government to review and assess current programs and projects that may participate and benefit from taking part in this initiative.
The side of the desk which I feel I best represent is that of entrepreneurial social enterprise, leveraging market-driven business solutions to start up sustainable businesses that can contribute by serving unmet social needs.
In my time with the Hawaii Venture Capital Association, the Hawaii People’s Fund, Start Up Hawaii, Honolulu Answers, Hawaii Democratic Party, Hawaii Centers for Independent Living, State Independent Living Council and the Hawaii Aging Disability Research Council, there has been no initiatives promoting opportunities for new businesses serving Hawaii’s aging, disabled and seriously ill people, despite 28% of the population being over the age of 65 with disability prevalence rates for all people past this age running at 70%. Hawaii is not preparing or investing in the kinds of businesses we need now and will increasingly rely upon in the future.
From government and business leaders we are being asked what can be done to change the unacceptable 70% unemployment rate and encourage greater hiring of people with disabilities. As social entrepreneurs, we are always looking at opportunities presenting themselves and have real workable deals ready to go – some that are entirely new and many that are well-established and proven in other localities. I’m honored to have the opportunity to work with all of you as we prepare to launch a new statewide campaign promoting innovation and accessibility for all Hawaiians, Aloha for All!