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Wyoming Ranks 10th In The U.S. For Disability Employment

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RespectAbility
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A report from a nonprofit that focuses on disability issues says that Wyoming is one of the top ten states for employing people with disabilities.

RespectAbility used data from 2017 to rank states on the rate at which people with disabilities are employed. Wyoming ranks tenth, with a little over 45 percent of people with disabilities having jobs. Wyoming had a total gain of 578 jobs for people with disabilities.

There are over 40,000 working-age people with disabilities in Wyoming. Over 20 million working-age people in the U.S have a disability.

Eric Moody, director of research and evaluation at the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities at the University of Wyoming, said while the numbers look good, there is still room for improvement.

Moody says said while the numbers may be there, many people with disabilities are underemployed, meaning they are paid lower or have to work fewer hours.

"For a lot of people with disabilities, they may be counted as having employment, but they may only make $15,000 a year. And that's not a living wage," he said. "That's not enough to live on, to have a home, do what you need to do to set up your retirement or take care of a family. That's extremely common and pervasive throughout all of these states as well."

Moody said some changes that could help, including allowing people with disabilities to retain some of their benefits once they begin working.

Once some people with disabilities start working and making money, it may restrict eligibility some support or programming they receive, he said.

"So if we could find ways to allow people to work and get an income that doesn't necessarily impact their eligibility for other programs, that would be very beneficial," Moody said.

On the local level, Moody said providing more access to job exploration opportunities is one of the ways to encourage growth.

"We've all been there, where you're in high school trying to figure out your life, whether you want to go college or into the workforce...And part of the trick is getting people those opportunities. Unfortunately, it gets really tricky for people to with disabilities to have those opportunities," he said.

In Addition, he said providing employers with education and support so they be better employers for people with disabilities.

"I think there's a lot of anxiety about, "what would this mean for me as an employer when I've got a job I need done in order to make my bottom line?" he said.

But Moody said employers shouldn't be worried about hiring people with disabilities.

"People with disabilities can be really, really good employees...They tend to have very low turnover. They tend to not take as much days off as you would expect. And they can really work within the business environment, and they can help businesses grow" he said.

Moody said he expects the rate to climb over time, but he thinks it will take several years and lots of support and education along the way.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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