Service Disparities by Race and Non-English Speakers
There are agencies designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities, including school districts, vocational rehabilitation programs, and developmental disabilities service agencies. However, within each of these programs service disparities exist. For example, in 2018-2019 for children who received services from Department of Developmental Services (DDS), each Hispanic child received 69% of the funding that each White child, each Spanish-speaking child received 82% of the funding that each English-speaking child received, each Asian child received 84% of the funding that each White child received, and each Black/African-American child was authorized at only 84% of what White children were authorized. Additionally, we requested demographic information about the population of individuals working in subminimum wage employment from the vocational rehabilitation program, and found that at least 60% of the individuals were listed as "unknown" with regards to race and ethnicity. In order to address these disparities, agencies must develop better mechanisms for collecting data regarding the demographic information for individuals served and the types of services and funds expended on underserved populations in comparison to white clients. Agencies must also develop strategic plans to ensure that their clients are representative of the state and local population and to address funding gaps for target populations.
COVID-19 Impact on Workers With Disabilities
In California, there was a 36 percent reduction in the disability workforce between March of 2020 and the last quarter of 2020 compared to a 5 percent reduction among workers without disabilities during the same period. Additionally, according to an analysis by the National Women's Law Center, between August and September 2020, over 800,000 women left the workforce due to COVID-19. That figure includes 324,000 Latinas and 58,000 Black women. For comparison, 216,000 men left the job market in the same time period. Intensive efforts and strategic planning are needed to ensure that disabled workers, particularly BIPOC workers, who lost employment or left the workforce in the last year have the supports needed to return. This will require ensuring workers with disabilities have access to childcare, technology, growth sector driven training, and accommodations and supportive services in the new economy. For many people with disabilities, remote work has made employment more accessible. Individuals and business may require support to ensure these employment settings remain in place as businesses open and restrictions are lifted. Others, however, have found virtual services inaccessible. While agencies have made efforts to support a range of safe and viable alternatives, provider capacity and public education regarding reasonable accommodations is needed to ensure all workers have access to needed supports during the pandemic.
Access to Supportive Services
In California, during the 2016-2017 fiscal year, 5,064 individuals worked in individual supportive programs. Many individuals require supportive services, including personal assistant services and job coaching, in order to work in competitive integrated employment. Greater efforts must be made to increase provider capacity and increase provider rates so that it becomes more profitable to service providers to support an individual in competitive integrated employment than in subminimum wage employment. Additionally, individuals working in competitive integrated employment, who are not clients of a state developmental disability service agency, have limited options to fund needed supports. Often the funding may come from an employer or out of the employee's personal funds, negating their income.
Self-employment would allow many individuals with significant disabilities the opportunity to work in a flexible environment. However, many people with significant disabilities who receive public benefits are unable to access the needed business loans to establish their own business. The resource limit on Supplemental Security Income is $2,000. In order to maintain eligibility for benefits, many individuals struggle to develop the collateral required to qualify for a loan unless they have a second source of income that allow them to access the Social Security's Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS). It may be necessary to develop a state or federal loan guarantee program for disability-owned businesses.
Universal and Inclusive Design Initiatives
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities in the application and hiring processes as well as on the job. However, universal and inclusive design, an approach of developing technology and environments to meet the broad needs of diverse individuals, would allow more people with disabilities to access work with fewer accommodations. Some employers in the private sector, particularly in the technology space, have embraced this approach with success. We recommend that employers in all sectors be provided technical assistance and supports to transition their application and hiring processes from a traditional model to universal and inclusive design.