Federal Laws That Brighten the Employment Picture for Those With Special Needs

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability has found that only 26 percent of working-age adults with disabilities are employed either in a job or their own business. While a combination of federal initiatives, private endeavors and technological advancements have made a difference, many individuals with disabilities continue to face obstacles to employment.

Several laws have addressed this issue, most notably the groundbreaking Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities to help them perform their jobs. The mission of the ADA was reinforced by the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992.

The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA) of 1999 helps disability beneficiaries obtain employment, vocational rehabilitation (VR) and other support services. Combined with a Social Security PASS Plan, Ticket to Work also can be used to fund education or even start a small business. Most recently, the rights of individuals with disabilities to work and live independently was supported by the New Freedom Initiative (NFI) of 2001.

While all employers of a certain size must comply with federal laws, some are going further, seeking qualified candidates through VR programs and other agencies. VRs help implement "supported employment," providing resources such as assistive technologies to help employees succeed at work. Several companies have received attention for creating "disability-friendly" work environments with their own "supports," including specialized training and technologies adapted for individuals with special needs. Reported benefits of such efforts have included higher retention rates, more cooperative work environments, increased productivity and even reduced production costs. Employers also may be eligible for various tax credits. Article Last Modified: 11/17/2007