November 4, 2019

The Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, Oct. 31 declared October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month in Multnomah County. The annual campaign celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. 

Approximately 41 million people in the United States have some sort of disability. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for people with a disability in 2018 was 8 percent -- more than twice that of people without a disability.

“I am really, really proud that we are taking this time to honor and acknowledge National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” said Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who sponsored the proclamation along with Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. “When I think about what safety, trust, and belonging mean at Multnomah County, I think about maintaining a workplace that truly supports employees in bringing their full selves to work.”

Multnomah County is committed to supporting workers who are disabled, both among its employees and the people it serves. This year’s theme is The Right Talent, Right Now, which aims to reduce the stigma around disabilities and highlight the skills that people with disabilities carry.

“At Multnomah County, not only do we provide services for individuals with disabilities, but also, as one of our community’s largest employers, we have the opportunity to support this community through employment,” Travis Graves, the Deputy Director of the Department of County Management, said. “At any one time in the County we have over 6,200 employees on our payroll.”   

For the public, the County’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Division funds employment services geared towards job skill development and transition to employment. In the most recent fiscal year, the County served more than 500 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in partnership with a network of contracted providers. Services include job coaching, job skills development, job discovery, and direct work experience opportunities.

Among staff, the County actively supports the Including Disability in Equity and Access Employee Resource Group (IDEA ERG), which supports disabled County employees and their allies. County rules also affirm a sense of safety, trust, and belonging for employees with disabilities.

“I just really appreciate the work that IDEA does here at the County to lift up and raise awareness of these issues and really advocate for our employees who are dealing with, who live with and have disabilities, whether they are visible or invisible,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said.

Graves said recent survey results have revealed how the workplace is not experienced the same way by people with disabilities. That survey, he said, offers a roadmap for how the County can become a more welcoming workplace for all. A new member of the Office of Diversity and Equity will be hired to help the County achieve that vision. 

Recruitment and retention practices can be improved, Graves said. As HR Director, he said his team is taking a fresh look at the County’s Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation processes, creating and developing training for managers and supervisors on those processes, and continuing to examine the general recruitment and selection processes. 

“Thank you for the work that you do every day to support our employees with disabilities,” Commissioner Jayapal told the panel. “And thank you for making the connection between what we do to support our employees and the broader mission of the County, which is to serve people with disabilities and to recognize them as the whole people we are.”