New Employment First Act Expands Opportunities for People with Disabilities

By: Ashmar Mandou

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local NewsAmid a crowd of onlookers and supporters, Governor Pat Quinn signed the “Employment First Act,” a new law which requires Illinois state agencies to work together for the purpose of providing people with disabilities the opportunity to obtain competitive employment as the first option.

“Every person in the Land of Lincoln should have the opportunity, regardless of the challenges they face, to pursue their dreams and achieve their full potential,” said Gov. Quinn, during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “My goal is to make Illinois the nation’s leading employer of people with disabilities. We’ve made historic progress to change Illinois through our Rebalancing Initiative and today, we are breaking down more barriers to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities in our state.” The legislation was first proposed by Governor Quinn in his 2013 State of the State address to ensure all people have the opportunity to follow their dreams and reach their full potential.

The Bill, sponsored by State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Skokie) and State Representative Esther Golar (D-Chicago), states that Illinois agencies make competitive employment for people with disabilities a priority and establish ‘measurable goals.’ The law requires the Employment and Economic Opportunity for Persons with Disabilities Task Force (EEOPWD), created in 2009, to monitor progress. The EEOPWD Task Force includes advocates, individuals with disabilities, business community members, disability services providers, and representatives.

“The Employment First Act will go a long way toward aligning state policy with Illinois’ values of inclusion and fair pay for people with disabilities,” Sen. Biss said during the conference. “People with disabilities deserve an equal opportunity to receive gainful employment,” Rep. Golar said. “This legislation will level the playing field and make sure that no one is denied employment at a state agency simply because they have a disability.”

Competitive work in integrated settings for people with disabilities is proven to foster self-sufficiency, independent living, higher self-esteem and better integration into the community at-large. “It’s time that people begin to recognize what we can contribute to society,” said Michael Grice, an advocate for Access Living. “This new law is a significant step for people with disabilities.

Tuesday’s bill signing took place at the Illinois Department of Human Services event which celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The law is effective immediately.

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