Gov. Markell: Hiring More People With Disabilities Is Good for the Bottom Line

A new report from the National Governor's Association says states should do more to employ the 54 million Americans living with a disability, among whom only 20 percent are currently employed or looking for a job. Judy Woodruff interviews Delaware Gov. Jack Markell about his push to boost accessibility to the labor market.


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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we return to the jobs story with a look at how difficult the labor market is for people with disabilities and what can be done about it.

Estimates show that of the 54 million Americans with a disability, just 20 percent are employed or seeking a job. A new report out today has recommendations to improve those prospects. It comes from Delaware Governor Jack Markell, the current chairman of the National Governors Association.

I spoke with him just a short time ago.

Governor Jack Markell, thank you for talking with us.

GOV. JACK MARKELL, D-Del.: Good to be with you. Thanks so much.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So we know from today's unemployment report the jobs picture is improving, but it's slow. There are still something like 11 million or 12 million Americans out of work who would like to have a job. Why focus on people with disabilities?

JACK MARKELL: There are so many companies around the country that are looking for people with particular skills. And the fact is we have got to focus on the ability and not on the disability.

And we have seen so many companies around the country benefit when they give people with disabilities a shot at employment. And that's really what this is all about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You are saying in this report that you have issued today that it's not about a social service on the part of employers, but it's about the bottom line. Explain what you mean by that.

JACK MARKELL: One of the most exciting things about the last year was talking to so many businesses who have told us that they employ people with disabilities not because it's charity, but because it's in the best interest of their shareholders.

They found that people with disabilities have these skills that they're looking for, they're incredibly loyal, they show up on time, they're delighted to have the job, there's less turnover. And so when you hear the CEO of a company like Walgreens, Greg Wasson, tell his fellow CEOs that that's why he hires people with disabilities, it's very exciting.

And what we're trying to do is make sure that governors have all the tools that they need to be supportive of businesses around the country who want to provide employment opportunities to people with disabilities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor, if that's the story, then why aren't more people businesses hiring people with disabilities?

JACK MARKELL: We need to get the word out. That's number one.

I think not enough businesses are hearing this message. They don't know that there are so many successful examples of companies that are providing these employment opportunities to people with disabilities and how well it's working out. That's number one.

Number two, states have to do a much better job. I think for too long states have approached businesses asking businesses as a favor to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities really as a charity. That's not what this is about. We have to change our mind-set. We have to recognize that we're business partners.

A lot of these businesses are looking for people with skills. We bring those people. We bring people. It could be people with disabilities. It might be people who are traditionally abled. We have so many opportunities to bring people with the necessary skills. And I think the better we do as states and the more that businesses hear from other business, the more successful we will be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor, give us some examples of the kind of job, the kind of work people with disabilities, either physical disabilities or intellectual disabilities, are doing or can do that might surprise our audience?

JACK MARKELL: There is such a wide range. Let me give you an example.

We have a company. Actually, it's in Delaware, but it's a regional company, thousands of employees. They have committed over the next few years that 3 percent of their consultants will be people with autism because they found that many people with autism are great at data testing and software quality analysis and the like.

We have met executives at Microsoft and at Highmark insurance company who are deaf. Walgreens is an incredible employer. Half of their employees at distribution centers in South Carolina and Connecticut have a range of disabilities. That's why the focus has to be on the ability and not the disability.

People have so many different things to offer, but so often these folks have not been given a shot, and we're trying to change that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you're not talking about a state government requiring employers to do something, is that right?

JACK MARKELL: No.

And the beauty of this is if you talk to these businesses, once they give some of these folks a shot at employment, they find out it's actually in the best interest of their own shareholders. So this is not a requirement. We do believe that we as states have to do a better job of walking the walk and being a model employer of people with disabilities, but businesses will choose to do it.

When they have all the facts, businesses will choose to do it for their own appropriate reasons, mainly what's in the interest of their shareholders. The other thing we have got to do is we have got to do a much better job of preparing our youth with disabilities for a lifetime of expectation of employment and not for a lifetime of expectation of being on public benefit.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that leads to a question I was thinking about. And that is, what do you think it is going to take for individuals with disabilities in this country -- and, as you said, there are millions of them who are not working -- to have something close to the opportunity that individuals who are able-bodied have to work?

JACK MARKELL: Well, part of it is we states, governors have to do a better job of really making disability employment part of our overall work force development strategy.

It's a change in a cultural mind-set away from charity and more toward what's in the best interest of the businesses. That's number one. Number two, we have got to do a better job of actually talking to businesses, recruiting businesses and hearing -- and having businesses hear from each other.

I'm telling you that when a CEO of a company hears the CEO of Walgreens or the CEO of Lowe's or Office Max or UPS talk about why employing people with disabilities is right for their business, they hear that. And it's not just big businesses. It's medium-sized businesses as well. So we think there's several different strategies. We have issued this blueprint today that's very practical in nature, very concrete suggestions, but it does start as well with setting expectations for our young kids with disabilities, that they, in fact, can work. They will work.

We believe in them. They will believe in themselves. And we have got to work hard to make sure those opportunities are there for them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Jack Markell of Delaware, thank you very much.

JACK MARKELL: Thanks, Judy.