Conservatives Missing Massive Voter Opportunity

The finger-pointing that the Obama administration is doing regarding the Ryan budget does nothing to answer the recent report by the Government Accountability Office that the federal government has literally dozens of programs to help people with disabilities get jobs that don’t measure their outcomes or performance metrics, and do not coordinate, collaborate, or use proven practices. We need government that works better and costs less.

The majority of working-age voters with disabilities want to work and be independent. Thankfully, a talented bipartisan group of elected officials is now really focusing on these issues. In the House of Representatives, two talented Republicans, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Rep. Gregg Harper, both of whom have children with disabilities, are considering solutions through the prism of fiscal conservatism. They have introduced the Transitioning Toward Excellence in Achievement and Mobility (TEAM) Act of 2013 (H.R. 509, 510 and 511), which promotes the advancement of Americans with significant disabilities transitioning from youth to adulthood.

Each of the three bills, the TEAM-Employment Act, TEAM-Education Act, and TEAM-Empowerment Act, would strengthen accountability, clarify expectations, expand flexibility, and align systems to ensure that publicly funded assistance is effectively utilized to support one uniform goal: ensuring that every youth with a significant disability has the opportunity, encouragement, and support to become gainfully employed in an integrated setting, pursue a post-secondary education, and engage in meaningful ways in typical community settings once they leave high school.

At the state level, Gov. Jack Markell, chair of the National Governors Association, has made solving these challenges into his chair's initiative. He is being joined by Republican governors such as Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, whose parents were deaf. Their exciting work, "A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities," focuses on the employment challenges that affect individuals with intellectual and other significant disabilities. They are starting to bring together public-sector, private-sector, and non-profit leaders to come up with creative and bipartisan solutions that can enable people with disabilities to go from being dependent to independent.

Today millions of Americans with disabilities who are educated, capable, and willing to work are relegated to a life of miserable payments from the federal treasuries, whose coffers are already bare. Instead, they really need transitional support and an employer willing to see their abilities, and not just their disabilities. As has been shown by Walgreens, Specialisterne, and other companies that have hired people with disabilities, these employees can be exceptionally reliable, talented, and profitable workers.

Faith-based solutions are also critical, as religious congregations can help facilitate opportunities for high school students with disabilities to get unpaid internships. These opportunities can give them life skills that can help enable them to get paying jobs later. Individuals who are willing to volunteer can also be “job coaches” and big brothers/sisters to Americans with disabilities who want to work.

America can't afford financially or morally to pay people to stay home when support to accommodate their special needs can enable them to work and be independent. There is a long way to go to solve these challenges, and it cannot be done by the government alone. But enabling Americans -- including those with disabilities -- to achieve the American dream is a goal worth fighting for.