31 Jul 2013

The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council recently approved a proposal to create more entrepreneurship opportunities for people with disabilities. Led by Council President Maggie Lewis and Vice President John Barth, the Council unanimously agreed to include the Disability Enterprise Category to the city’s contracting program. Within days, Mayor Greg Ballard signed it into law.   
This bipartisan action by our city leaders marks a significant milestone for people with disabilities in Indianapolis. However, it doesn’t come as a surprise. For generations, our community’s elected and civic leaders have been committed to fostering a climate of accessibility and inclusion in both public and private places. 
From curb cuts to ramps, Indianapolis’ physical infrastructure makes it a remarkably convenient city for people with disabilities to navigate. Our athletic facilities, which are among the best in the nation, provide an unparalleled sports experience. The Cultural Trail allows people with disabilities to fully participate in all our downtown has to offer. Accessible hotels, museums, parks and arts experiences abound.
Proof of this good work is Indianapolis’ 2009 recognition with the Accessible America Award by the National Organization on Disability, naming our city the most disability-friendly in the country.
Yet, more than 20 years after President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, people with disabilities still lag behind. 
Even though we have the ability and the desire to participate in our economy, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is disproportionally higher than for the general population. Only 17.8 percent of persons with a disability were employed in 2012, while 63.9 percent of persons without a disability had a job. Many people with disabilities, particularly those who pursued college and graduate degrees, are chronically underemployed and unemployed. They struggle to earn a viable living. Some are forced to rely on public assistance. 
At Ball State University, where I am both an alumnus and a Distinguished Fellow, we impress upon our students with disabilities that they must be empowered and self-reliant. They must go the extra mile to not just secure an internship, but to ensure they have reliable transportation to that internship, and fully communicate any special needs to supervisors and colleagues. They understand that securing meaningful employment won’t be easy and they are willing to work for it.
All too often, we see partisan rancor at the federal and state level over so-called “entitlement programs,” that millions of Americans, including some with disabilities, have come to rely. Perhaps lawmakers’ time – and our taxpayer dollars – would be better spent developing common sense solutions that help keep people with disabilities off of public assistance and engaged in sustainable employment.
Our leaders in Indianapolis understand better than most that a common sense approach puts people to work. Including people with disabilities as a Disability Enterprise Category will come at little or no cost to the taxpayers. It’s an example of good government in action.
Because of their foresight, people with disabilities who own businesses now have the opportunity to join their counterparts – racial and ethnic minorities, women, and veterans – to participate in the process by which our local government has elected to diversify its contracts with vendors. According to the Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, employed persons with a disability were more likely to be self-employed in 2012 than those without a disability.
Our Councillors and Mayor have sent a strong message to people with disabilities who possess an entrepreneurial spirit:  the playing field is more than level. People with disabilities can actually play in the game.

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