Governor Jack Markell was in Washington Tuesday morning to reflect on the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and to look ahead to the next 25 years.
During his time in the governor’s office, Markell has been an advocate for those with disabilities. As the head of the National Governor’s Association from 2012 to 2013, he pushed for employers to hire workers with disabilities.
Markell talked about those efforts at a forum hosted by the U.S. Department of Labor on Tuesday. “I think this is an area where we can move the needle,” he said. “I also thought in an era where there is so little bipartisanship, it seemed to me that disability cuts across every boundary including partisanship.”
It was a visit to MBNA (now part of Bank of America) while he was Delaware’s treasurer that sparked Markell’s desire to get more involved in advocating for those with disabilities. He met a 25-year-old worker at the bank who had Down syndrome. Markell said the man told him all about his job and how excited he was to be working. When Markell asked what he had been doing before he started at MBNA making promotional materials for the bank, the man said he spent six years watching television with his parents. “At that moment, a light went off in my head,” Markell said. “You can read about all the statistics about the very high unemployment rate for people with disabilities, but we have to remember that behind every statistic is a real person and a real family.”
According to a June report from the Department of Labor, only 18 percent of Americans with disabilities are currently employed, compared to 65 percent of individuals without disabilities.
Markell urged both small and large business to consider the benefits of hiring workers with disabilities. “This is not just about charity. This is not just about doing the right thing. This is about doing the right thing for your business because we all need to take advantage of all the talent that’s out there.”