An older man smiles at a young boy with a disability

Setting the record straight, opening the way to opportunity

Project start up: January 2020


If given the opportunity, many more Vermonters with disabilities could be participating in the workforce, benefitting these individuals, employers, and the state.


  1. Dispel misconceptions about Vermonters with disabilities and their potential as workers.
  2. Provide information about the benefits—to individuals, employers, and the state economy—of increasing the workforce participation of people with disabilities.

Desired Outcomes

  • Improve employer attitudes toward the recruitment and retention of workers with disabilities.
  • Increase the overall employment rate for Vermonters with disabilities.
  • Create more diverse, healthier workplaces while helping to meet the growing needs of the Vermont economy.
  • Reduce poverty of individuals with disabilities and their families.
  • Increase opportunities for young adults with disabilities.
  • Increase public awareness that individuals with disabilities are an important part of every community. Increased workforce participation is key to full social inclusion for individuals with disabilities.


Disability affects everyone eventually—whether we’re born with it; experience disability through illness, accident, or aging; or have a loved one or colleague with a disabling condition. Individuals with disabilities are part of Vermont’s human capital—an economic, civic, and workforce development resource that can be an important part of economic and community development across Vermont.

But a common perception is that Vermonters with disabilities are unable or unwilling to work. This presents a significant barrier to their employment. As a result, many Vermonters with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed and living in poverty. At the same time employers report that it’s a challenge to find workers. For businesses, that may mean turning down contracts or postponing expansion.

In fact Vermonters with disabilities can work successfully with the right supports, and the state offers many resources to employers who are interested in recruiting from this largely untapped talent pool.

Bringing perception more into line with reality would not only be good for individuals with disabilities, but also for employers, communities, and the state economy.

Project Plan

The project will produce a series of brief, readable data-based reports and disseminate their findings to policymakers, the press, and the public. These reports will profile the state’s disability community and the potential role for people with disabilities in the state’s economy; obstacles to their employment; and ways to improve their work opportunities and complement the needs of Vermont employers.

Dissemination will include community meetings, testimony, press releases, op-eds, social media, and other means of communicating both outside and inside disability communities. Phase 1 of the project, which began in January, will produce the first report of this series.

Community profile: Data and information such as age, gender, education, income, and employment can help employers, policymakers, and the public to develop a more realistic understanding of people with disabilities and their untapped potential to contribute.

Workforce participation and potential: Using state and national data, the project will explore the contribution that increased workforce participation by people with disabilities could have on Vermont’s economy. Research will look into the financial and systemic benefits of higher employment rates to individuals with disabilities, such as reduced dependence on public benefits, increased self-esteem, lower poverty rates, improved health, greater community involvement and social connection, and improved overall well-being.

Benefits to employers: The project will explore the potential direct benefits to employers with access to an expanded pool of qualified candidates, as well as evidence of indirect employer benefits such as increased diversity of the workforce as a reflection of the community/customer base, more positive community image, expanded customer base including individuals with disabilities, and increase to the future workforce by engaging and readying young adults with disabilities.

Government role: The report(s) will provide information on current and potential ways the state can help by providing progressive employment options, as well as follow-along services to workers and services to employers to help them retain workers who may develop a new or chronic health condition.


Potential data sources include disability-related information on the incidence of poverty, wage and hour records, labor market trends, benefits programs’ structures, available training and educational resources, economic forecasts and any other relevant information. These data will come from federal and state government, academic or independent research institutions, and other vetted, reliable sources. The project’s broad-based advisory committee will help to identify useful data sources.

To produce reports that meaningfully and usefully inform public knowledge and policy regarding employment for people with disabilities is not a straightforward task. The research and analysis require lots of digging, parsing, reorganizing, and analysis. For instance, data incidental—and therefore not easily accessible—to an agency’s work may be key to this work. Different agencies collect data over different time periods and aggregate it in different ways and categories; to create a data set from which to draw information useful to the public may mean taking data from the Agency of Education and massaging it to be compatible with data from the Agency of Human Services. And all this often means asking agency staff for assistance to find and interpret information. These complications add to the time and resources required for the project.

Target Audiences

While the overall content will be the same, information may be re-packaged and messaged to better reach various intended audiences. The target audiences for this information include employers, policymakers especially those focused on workforce development, economic development organizations, and Vermonters with disabilities.

  • Employers: Workers with disabilities represent an untapped labor pool, and there are state supports to assist employers interested in recruiting and hiring them. Vermonters with disabilities are a part of every community, and including them in the workforce reflects the diversity of those communities.
  • Policymakers: Vermont’s economic viability is directly linked to the size and strength of its workforce and its ability to access the human capital of all Vermont workers.
  • Workforce and economic development: Vermonters with disabilities, like currently non-disabled Vermonters, are both potential workers and also consumers and taxpayers. Greater employment for people with disabilities will increase the state’s productivity, consumer activity, and tax revenue.
  • Individuals with disabilities: Any individual with a disability who wants to work can work with the right supports and accommodations. Everybody who wants to work should be a part of the Vermont workforce and have the opportunity to be self-sufficient.
  • General public: Cultural change in communities and workplaces is necessary to maximize workforce participation and integration of people with disabilities.

Phase 1 Project Partners (2020)

  • Vermont Center for Independent Living
  • Division for Vocational Rehabilitation (at the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living)
  • Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council
  • Statewide Independent Living Council
  • Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired
  • Public Assets Institute

TAGS: Employment