Making Government Work

Minnesota’s Bold Move to Hire More Employees with Disabilities

August 18, 2014
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Minnesota’s Bold Move to Hire More Employees with Disabilities
Governor Mark Dayton's executive order directs state agencies to increase the amount of disabled employees to 7 percent by 2018. Getty Images
Governor Mark Dayton's executive order directs state agencies to increase the amount of disabled employees to 7 percent by 2018.

A snapshot of disability in America:

There’s an estimated 56.7 million disabled citizens.

The national unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than twice the national average, sitting at 13.3 percent.

Which is why Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is planning to reform hiring practices with a new executive order that mandates state agencies to begin employing more people with disabilities. Dayton is aiming to raise the percentage of government employees with disabilities from 3.2 percent in 2013 to 7 percent by 2018, the Star Tribune reports.

Dayton has more recently come under fire from disability advocate groups criticizing stalled reforms in helping Minnesota’s disabled population, which includes one in five residents. Such disabilities range in physical and mental issues that can hinder an individual’s ability to perform a major activity.

“It’s a slam dunk, politically,” said Galen Smith, co-facilitator of the Minneapolis chapter of ADAPT, a disability advocate group. “This shows leadership while acknowledging the problem.”

Minnesota has fallen behind neighboring states like Iowa (4.4 percent) and  Wisconsin (5.8 percent) when it comes to disability hires. But under Dayton’s new order, more hiring managers will be required to take training on recruitment and hiring of disabled people while also reporting progress every quarter.

Dayton is not the first leader to address the growing problem. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination against anyone with disability, some state agencies stopped tracking recruitment of disability hires, diminishing a law that once was a hiring focus.

“The attitude became, ‘Well, we have the ADA so we don’t have to worry anymore,’ ” said Roberta Opheim, Minnesota’s ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities. “That doesn’t affect my department or my division. There just wasn’t a lot of emphasis on inclusive employment.”

But since 2010, President Barack Obama has implored the federal government to hire 100,000 people with disabilities by 2015, and governors in California, Oregon, Florida, Ohio and Delaware have signed similar executive orders as Minnesota’s.

This isn’t Dayton’s first effort to increase services for the state’s disabled population, either. Last year, the governor announced the “Olmstead Plan,” a multi-year outline to expand Minnesota’s services for people living with disabilities or mental illness. But advocates argue the state is moving too slowly to implement new practices, which is why Dayton’s recent order signals a shift toward change.

MORE: This Autistic Professor Uses His Disability to Teach Others Like Him

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