Over the past two weeks I’ve spent time with two individuals who represent the largest minority group in the United States: Americans with disabilities. The first, Ric Nelson, is a 37-year-old entrepreneur in Anchorage Alaska. Nelson has cerebral palsy and requires full-time assistance to manage his physical needs. Nelson is academically brilliant and highly energized to advance the interests of the disabled. He graduated in the top 10 percent of his high school class and, against high odds, used the scholarship he obtained to secure associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in Small Business Management and Business Administration. Most recently, he completed a master’s degree in Public Administration.
Nelson serves on multiple boards and after eight years of service became chair of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education (GCDSE) for Alaska, where he is currently employed as Employment Program Coordinator. I learned from my discussion with Nelson the full extent of the plight of disabled employees.
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The National Council on Disabilities (NCD) estimates between 40 and 57 million people in the U.S. are disabled. As of 2018, only 18 percent were employed. Statistics from the Census Bureau show the sum inched up slightly in 2019 but reached only 19.3 percent even prior to the global health crisis.
Not surprisingly, the COVID recession has been disproportionately hard for the disabled, who’ve lost nearly one million U.S. jobs between March and May of this year. Complicating factors include jobs ended due to the extra risk of immunocompromised conditions and the predominance of disabled workers in lower-level positions in industries such as food and service that have been most heavily hit. Concerns for the ability to comply with ADA (American Disability Act) requirements in work-from-home arrangements have also