New Possibilities for the Eastern Washington Disability Community

Op-ed by Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Published in The Independent and the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business

Every single person has something wonderful to offer – and I believe that every person should have the opportunity and the ability to reach one’s full potential. That’s why I was proud to cast my vote for H.R. 803, the bipartisan, bicameral Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which works to reduce the skills gap for all Americans, and ensures individuals with disabilities have the tools they need to succeed in all workplaces – including those that provide competitive and integrated employment.

One of my priorities as your representative in Congress is to promote the community of people with disabilities, because too often, we overlook the fact that Americans with disabilities experience an unemployment rate that is double the national average. More troubling is the fact that most of these Americans want to work and have the ability to work but don’t have the opportunity. We need to come together to change that, to see the ability, not the disability, and this legislation is a step in that direction.

This bill makes our job training programs more efficient and effective by empowering local boards to customize the services they provide to better reflect Eastern Washington’s employment and workforce needs. It also aligns local workforce training and development programs with the needs of our local economy and education level of applicants, creating better suited opportunities for all. This way, the disability community is better equipped to seek employment in numerous industries, including those like the retail and hospitality sectors.

Equally important, this bill starts to change the status quo, and guarantees countless Eastern Washington men and women have access to new employment prospects. Not only does this legislation set high employment expectations for individuals with disabilities, it also provides youth with disabilities the services and supports necessary to be successful in competitive, integrated employment. Almost 25 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is still difficult for many people facing significant disabilities to find full-time employment that corresponds with their skills, interests, and goals. And it is essential that we provide young people with disabilities more opportunities to improve their workplace skills, consider their career interests, and get real work experience.

When it comes to disability issues, I am working to move the dialogue to empower people not those policies that place limitations on people.  We can offer new, limitless possibilities to those who want them through smart legislation. Bipartisan legislation like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act will enable men and women to reach their full potential, and it will promote an atmosphere of success, not of dependence because every person should be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace. 

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