Wednesday marked the 27th anniversary of a milestone in our nation’s history − the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Signed by President George H.W. Bush, this landmark legislation prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of disability and helps to ensure all Americans have equal access to good, safe jobs.
As Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, I had the honor of working with the disability community and employers to create a work environment open to all. As Secretary of Labor, I have the privilege of continuing this work in many ways, one of which is by connecting job creators and job seekers. Employers know that workplace accessibility is not something that is done simply to comply with the law. Workplace accessibility provides a business advantage. It provides access to a talent pool that makes businesses stronger and more competitive.
There are currently about 6 million open jobs in the U.S. It’s estimated that American companies are missing out on nearly $250 billion because of these unfilled jobs. Now is the time for businesses to realize the untapped potential of the more than 500,000 Americans with disabilities who are seeking jobs right now.
President Trump understands this. He is committed to helping Americans pursue their career of choice by making workplaces more accessible and workforce education more inclusive to those with disabilities. The President’s first budget proposal directs the Department of Labor to help states test strategies to enable recently disabled workers to stay in their current employment. Early intervention is key and will be a focus of the research and state demonstration projects.
The President also signed an Executive Order on apprenticeships to close the skills gap and ensure the American workforce is prepared to succeed in the jobs of today and tomorrow. The Department of Labor will work with industry groups, companies, unions, nonprofits and educational institutions to increase the number of quality apprenticeships in the U.S. Apprenticeships and workforce development programs such as these should and will be open to all Americans of all abilities.
A job is about more than just income. Work is a source of pride; it gives men and women the ability to provide for their families and make our local communities better places. The Department of Labor and the Office of Disability Employment Policy are committed to ensuring that more Americans with disabilities experience the independence, pride, and community that come with having a job.
Alexander Acosta is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.