Democratic Governor Jack Markell from Delaware and Republican Congressman Pete Sessions from Texas are nearly polar opposites ideologically speaking, but that has not stopped the two have from uniting together to help push a public-private initiative to get companies hiring disabled workers. Currently, over 80% of the disabled workforce is unemployed, a number the two agree is out of control.
In mid-July, the National Governors Association (NGA) met in Williamsburg, Virginia. The hot topic of the meeting was the nation’s extremely high unemployment rate, and how to create jobs for the millions of the nation’s unemployed. However, Governor Jack Markell, who was recently selected to head the NGA for the next year, chose to focus on the special needs community.
“There are a lot of people who want to be working in our country, and aren’t given a shot.” stated Gov. Markell, who dubbed his initiative, “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.”
Governor Markell believes that a targeted initiative “can move the needle” in regards to hiring. He believes that the 80% unemployment rate those with disabilities face is “staggering” and that the solution is outreach and education.
Texas Representative Pete Sessions is the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC). His politics are polar opposite of Governor Markell, who is a Democrat and a huge supporter of the Obama campaign. Markell was surprised to find such a passionate ally in Sessions when it came to disability rights.
Representative Sessions has a son with Down syndrome. He has publicly commented on having one son in the upper 2% of academic ability, and one in the lowest 2%. It was the difference between the two that motivated him to become the leading Republican advocate in Congress for those with physical and mental disabilities.
Sessions stated that his sons, Bill, 22, and Alex, 18, both have needs and goals, they simply have to be met differently. “He can’t be the state wrestling champion like Bill, but he has pride and he wants to be successful, too.” Alex has already overcome obstacles to become an Eagle Scout like his older brother, father and grandfather before him.
It’s a well-known fact that today’s GOP does not celebrate former Republican president George H.W. Bush’s Americans with Disabilities Act, signed in 1990. Sessions is not looking for another government-driven program. On the contrary, he thinks there are far too many at the state and federal level currently. He got behind Markell’s initiative because it’s a public-private initiative that doesn’t force businesses to do anything.
While Markell doesn’t have the personal experience that Sessions has to spur his desire for change, he did have a moment where the light bulb turned on. Markell was attending an event sponsored by Bank of America, when he met a newly hired 25-year-old with Down syndrome. Markell asked the new hire what he did before getting the job with Bank of America, and and the young man responded that for six years he watched TV with his mom and Dad. Markell knew it was time for change.
While it has taken a while for Markell to bring the issue into focus, he signed the Employment First Act (House Bill 319) into law in Delaware, which requires state agencies that supply services to the disabled to also consider hiring them. This is the first step in what Markell and Sessions hope will be many of positive change for workers with disabilities.