As the month of October comes to a close, I want to share news in observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, when we celebrate and focus on our year-round work to increase the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.
It is our goal to ensure that people with disabilities across our state have full access to employment and community opportunities. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are employed at much lower rates than people without disabilities, and we are fighting to change this.
On October 4th, the State, through an Executive Order by Governor Pritzker, took an important step to remedy this by requiring persons with disabilities to be paid at least minimum wage on all State Use contracts. This historic milestone will prevent state agencies from entering contracts with vendors in the State Use Program who pay people with disabilities a subminimum wage. In addition, the EO requires state agencies who currently have contracts with vendors who pay people with disabilities a subminimum wage to re-negotiate those contracts to ensure everyone is paid at least the minimum wage.
In Illinois, there are more than 2 million people with disabilities. They have extraordinary talents, strengths, and skills that can contribute through meaningful employment.
Disability is part of the fabric of human experience. People with disabilities have intersectional identities, and include people of color, women, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and immigrants. The HIV+, trans, and non-gender conforming populations have sometimes faced additional barriers to employment. We need to address these additional barriers to employment.
I want to commend and recognize the Division of Rehabilitation Services, which is one of the highest-achieving programs in the nation for assisting people with disabilities to increase their technical and educational skills and sets a benchmark of quality service for individuals living and working with a disability.
The 2021 National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme of “Inclusion Empowering Economic Recovery” recognizes the strength, power, and identities of people with disabilities. When we come together to address this need in the disability population, we help all individuals in Illinois maximize their potential. I want to help everyone – no matter their ability or identity – to discover their talents, strengths, and skills, and to be recruited and selected for jobs that they can succeed in.
Separately, we are excited to share that the Governor issued a new executive order requiring all licensed day care center workers in Illinois to get COVID vaccine shots by early January, or else undergo weekly testing for the virus. The new mandate applies to more than 55,000 staff at licensed day care centers across the state. Any licensed day care center workers who aren’t fully vaccinated by Dec. 3 must undergo weekly COVID testing until they are fully vaccinated.
This is another step that our state is taking to ensure that our communities – especially our youngest Illinoisans – are safe and protected. As always, we thank you for your support. Please be well and take good care.
Grace B. Hou,