May 3, 2013

In Maine, only 26 percent of people with disabilities are employed, nationwide according to the U.S. Department of Labor its one third. A new “Employment First” bill is designed to help disabled Mainers land jobs and received enthusiastic support at a legislative hearing.

Sponsored by Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, the bill directs state agencies to coordinate their efforts in to make employment the first priority when disabled Mainers turn to the state for help.

“Any employer in the state of Maine working with an applicant with a disability would have to offer them some sort of reasonable accommodation to find work in their actual employment and so that’s what this bill does,” Alfond said. “I’m very excited about the bill’s kind of progress and we’ll see how the committee works on it.”

Alfond’s bill encourages community-based employment for disabled workers and establishes a coalition that would provide guidance to state agencies on ways to help more disabled people find jobs. Alfond says his bill will help these Mainers climb out of poverty and become more self-sufficient, which produces rewards that go beyond a paycheck.

Employers sometimes presume that hiring a disabled person means they will have to hold the workers hand giving them special considerations. But studies show that given the opportunity to work disabled people perform equally to other workers, if not with more dedication.