For Americans with disabilities, no less than for all other citizens, the opportunity to earn a living and be self-supporting is a universally held goal. Yet in perhaps no area of public policy has the expectations gap so stubbornly resisted our efforts to achieve equality. Whatever set of statistics one chooses from among the varying estimates of employment rates for Americans with disabilities, the rate and level of employment for this population remain far too low. These employment and earnings gaps are a substantial public and policy concern. A lack of employment opportunities limits the ability of many people with disabilities to fully participate in society, as employment plays a number of important roles and functions for individuals.
There is a direct benefit to expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities. For employers who are projected to face labor shortages as the baby-boom generation retires, non-employed people with disabilities represent a valuable tool of human resources to help fill those needs. For people with disabilities, employment has not just economic value, but important social and psychological value as well. For government, increased employment of people with disabilities helps increase tax receipts and decrease social expenditures. Finally, as recognized in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are societal benefits from greater inclusiveness in mainstream society as the barriers facing people with disabilities are dismantled.