Despite the potential they possess, people with disabilities continue to face significant barriers to employment, with an unemployment rate of 70 percent. However, NISH, a non-profit organization dedicated to securing federal contracts for agencies employing people with disabilities through the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Program, is taking action to change this status quo.
NISH has launched a new program in which “Centers of Excellence” act as mentors to other agencies to enhance the quality of the services and products they offer to the federal government. Through the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Program, NISH collaborates with over 600 non-profit agencies to employ and train individuals with disabilities. This program is the most extensive source of jobs in the US for people with disabilities, offering employment opportunities to more than 45,000 individuals who are blind or have severe disabilities.
The JWOD program began in 1938 with the Wagner-O’Day Act that permitted the blind to manufacture mops and brooms for the federal government. In 1971, the act expanded to include people with severe disabilities and allowed agencies to offer services, as well as products. Despite this, a recent survey by Harris Interactive revealed that two out of three people with disabilities who are not working would like to work, but face accessibility issues and a lack of opportunities.
Dr. Marcy Mistrett, the CEO of the non-profit Campaign for Youth Justice, notes, “Employment is essential to youth with disabilities achieving economic stability and independence.” Employing individuals with disabilities not only provides a sense of purpose but also fosters economic growth. According to the World Bank, the potential contribution of individuals with disabilities to the global economy is an estimated $8 trillion.
One example of the success of such programs is Nick, who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and was employed at Goodwill. With the assistance of Goodwill and its program for individuals with ASD, Nick became a skilled worker and gained independence.
The future looks hopeful for programs aimed at supporting individuals with disabilities in employment. By 2024, it is predicted that there will be over one million job openings for individuals with disabilities, which presents an opportunity for companies and organizations to prioritize inclusive hiring practices.