In the wake of an unprecedented year, many of us are all keenly aware of the difficulties that can come with finding and keeping a steady, good-paying job. However, for adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental disability, this already-difficult endeavor can be further complicated by a host of additional barriers. People with disabilities serve an essential role in our workforce and deserve a fair chance to succeed. That’s why, in honor of this year’s New York State Assembly Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day, I helped passed a legislative package designed to remove these barriers to employment so all New Yorkers can follow their dreams and lead a fulfilling life.
Those with disabilities are often overlooked for employment opportunities due to employers’ false assumptions that they will be unable to complete their duties adequately. According to a number of studies and data sets, adults with autism are unemployed at a rate of 75-85%. Even those who achieved a college degree find themselves to be underemployed or unemployed at an alarmingly higher rate than their peers.1 This is a sad reality that prevents capable individuals from entering the workforce. Adults living with a disability deserve the same opportunities to support and provide for themselves and their families just like anyone else.
To help alleviate this barrier, we need more than a culture of awareness, but we need acceptance and incentives to get us there. The New York State Assembly recently passed a bill establishing a tax credit ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 for small businesses that employ people with disabilities (A.3960 of 2021). This credit would be available for companies with fewer than 100 employees that employ a disabled person for at least 6 months for a minimum of 35 hours a week.2
To further combat discriminatory employment practices, I have introduced a bill that would seek to award 5% of state contracts to businesses where 15% of the employees are individuals with disabilities (A.2593). The bill would involve creating a statewide study to determine whether there is a disparity between the number of qualified businesses able to perform state contracts and the numbers actually engaged and determine any changes needed.3
Another bill passed would ensure the rights of state employees to sue New York State for damages due to violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (A.7121). This will not only give further agency to adults with disabilities, but will also deter employers from using discriminatory hiring and workplace practices.4 In addition, this the legislative package included a measure aimed at promoting overall accessibility in the day-to-day lives of individuals with disabilities like re-establishing the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities to help those with disabilities receive services and support in order to enable them to make informed choices and decisions (A.3130).5
Providing substantive change for the thousands of adults with autism requires a great deal more on our part. Aside from amending portions of our law to encourage fair and fulfilling employment opportunities, we need to support the countless organizations and nonprofits that have the connections and framework in place to provide people with autism and their families all the resources they need to succeed. In this year’s New York State budget, I’m proud that my work with that of local advocates ensured important funding for the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region to support the Gig Works program. Gig Works is an innovative program that fosters connections between employers and people with autism all the while creating a support system to help these individuals navigate the workforce.6
Whether an individual is searching for meaningful employment or a training program, we must do everything we can to ensure New Yorkers with disabilities receive fair and equal treatment. Individuals with disabilities make up a significant portion of our workforce, and they deserve the same opportunities and protections granted to all workers. I’m confident that by using practical policy initiatives like those we’ve established here in New York State, we are developing a stronger framework for a more fair and inclusive society.
As the chair of the New York State Assembly Subcommittee on Autism Spectrum Disorders, I welcome any and all questions and concerns readers may have. Please feel free to contact my office at 518-382-2941 or send me an email at SantabarbaraA@nyassembly.gov. You can also find more information on my website at www.nyassembly.gov/Santabarbara.