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Each October, our nation recognizes National Disability Employment Awareness month — a month focused on highlighting the many contributions of workers who happen to have disabilities, while also educating employers and the community on the value of a workforce inclusive of diverse skills and talents.

Traditionally, people with disabilities experience higher unemployment rates and earn lower wages than those in the workplace without a disability. New economic and social hardships resulting from the pandemic, however, have further magnified such inequities and has significantly exacerbated the historical challenges faced by people with disabilities.

Prior to 2020, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities was 7.3% in 2019 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). After the pandemic beginning in March 2020, the unemployment rate for people with a disability increased by 5.3% to 12.6%. Among those with a disability, the jobless rate for Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians was higher than that of white people. Across all age groups, people with disabilities were much less likely to be employed than those without a disability. The same is also true when looking across educational attainment groups.

In addition, individuals with disabilities who are employed, tend to be in low-paying occupations and more likely to work part-time. With 14.2% of San Antonio’s population cited as having a disability (Bureau of Labor Statistics) in 2019, and with only 36% of working age adults in Bexar County with a disability employed, employment for people with disabilities continues to be an important issue requiring community focus. Couple that with poverty rates being twice as high among those with a disability, and it is clear this issue has an impact on both the individual and their families and our community at large.

As advocates, citizens, and employers, we should do more to advance employment opportunities for all people, despite disability or circumstance. Doing so not only improves our economy and accelerates the recovery, it also allows our neighbors to contribute to something larger than one’s self, to find purpose and meaning in one’s life, and to help one realize their true talents and potential.

At Goodwill San Antonio, we know hiring people with disabilities means hiring a dedicated and loyal workforce whose courage to persevere translates into innovative thinking and creativity. For 76 years, Goodwill San Antonio has experienced the significant impact of offering employment to those with barriers, including individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities. This has been core to our purpose to fight poverty and create opportunity, and has made us a stronger, more inclusive nonprofit social enterprise. Throughout all levels of our organization our employees — both with and without disabilities — have brought to us their talents, unique perspectives, and an unrivaled passion which helps us fulfill our mission to help change lives through the power of work. In my short tenure as CEO of Goodwill San Antonio, I have observed it is the person’s ability and persistence that fuels their success.

With employers across industries currently struggling to hire, both companies and policymakers should consider workforce development strategies inclusive of workers with disabilities. Equitable training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities should be intentionally woven into post-pandemic workforce development plans. This includes developing and providing access to essential supportive services, creating safe work environments, and advancing access to digital literacy and upskilling initiatives. It is the right thing to do.

While there is work to be done, employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities does exist to include a variety of both full- and part-time positions with benefits throughout Goodwill, not only in our retail thrift stores, but also within our Business Services division, which provides outsourced solutions to the federal and local governments as well as commercial businesses. Resources such as Goodwill San Antonio’s free Good Careers Centers also provide access, referrals, training, and meaningful connections to employers who are hiring in the community. Individuals interested in learning more or needing assistance on how best to position themselves for future success can call (210) 271-8880 or email GCCInfo@goodwillsa.org.

Partner nonprofit organizations such as disAbilitySA and San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind, along with major employers such as H-E-B, USAA, and VIA Metropolitan Transit are also committed to providing and advocating for supportive work environments that foster an individual’s success no matter their disability status. With a belief that all people deserve the opportunity to enjoy full and equal access to employment, we applaud those employers and many others who are similarly dedicated to providing diverse and inclusive workplaces. We welcome you to join us.

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Carlos J. Contreras III

Carlos serves as the President and CEO for Goodwill San Antonio where he is responsible for leading the non-profit agency in its founding purpose to Fight Poverty. Create Opportunity.