People with disabilities deserve access to good jobs

As the President of North Central Sight Services, I witness on a daily basis the many challenges that blind and visually impaired adults can confront when trying to find good jobs that pay well. As someone who has been blind since the age of 5, I have had to tackle those challenges throughout my professional career. The hurdles can be imposing, starting with transportation and finding employers who are actually willing to even consider hiring a blind or visually impaired adult. But they are not insurmountable and I am proud that our agency is providing 30 legally blind adults with jobs right now in our industry program. Unfortunately, policymakers in Harrisburg are making decisions that are going to eliminate opportunities for Pennsylvanians with disabilities to find work. In short, the message from Harrisburg is that the bureaucracy will decide where adults with disabilities should or should not work. Rather than working to provide opportunities and choices, the state is effectively building walls between adults who want to work in an environment that suits their needs and challenges and willing employers such as our organization. Governor Tom Wolf deserves praise for signing an Executive Order ensure that businesses hire more Pennsylvanians with disabilities by placing them in jobs where they earn the minimum wage. This order was designed to align the state with the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The federal law is not meant to create obstacles for professionals with disabilities but the state’s implementation of these rules is doing just that. Unfortunately, his administration is effectively building walls between willing workers and agencies such as ours that are more than willing to hire them. A goal of WIOA is to promote “competitive, integrated employment” for people with disabilities. But the administration is misinterpreting WIOA and, as a result, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, part of the Department of Labor & Industry, has stopped referring potential employees to organizations such as ours. In addition, the state has removed the ability of families and to determine the best placement for people with disabilities. Our organization has been in business for 59 years precisely because there is a need for these jobs. Providing these jobs has become one of our many core functions because these men and women want – and deserve – jobs that pay well and include strong benefits. It is not at all reasonable to expect that a handful of fast food franchises or retail businesses will reverse course and begin hiring Pennsylvanians with disabilities. This is not a criticism – it is a simple statement of fact. No adult – blind or visually impaired or not – wants to be told where to work. Or where not to work. It is time for the Wolf administration to take a step back and revisit its rationale for these decisions. Pennsylvanians with disabilities deserve access to good jobs that pay well. Where they work should be their choice – not Harrisburg’s. Garrett is President/C.E.O. of North Central Sight Services, Inc. The agency’s mission is to provide exceptional programs, services and employment to the blind and visually impaired as well as excellent education, prevention services and products to all customers.