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Dayton aims to increase state's disabled workforce

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ST. PAUL — More workers with disabilities may find jobs with the state more easily because of a new order from Gov. Mark Dayton.

Dayton's executive order, signed Monday, directs state agencies to hire more employees with disabilities, seeking to halt a drop in the state's disabled workforce — just 3.2 percent of employees in 2013 were disabled. The governor's order aims to double that to 7 percent by 2018.

"We think this will make a huge difference at the state level, and hopefully spread to other companies and businesses," said Alan Parnes, a member of the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans .

Nearly 57 million Americans — 19 percent of the nation — were living with a disability in 2010, according to U.S. Census data. About one in five Minnesotans have a disability, or a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities.

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than double the average unemployment rate. President Barack Obama called on federal agencies to hire more employees with disabilities in 2010, and governors in at least six other states have taken similar steps.

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But Minnesota has lagged in hiring people with disabilities since the Americans With Disabilities Act passed in 1990, outlawing many employers from discriminating.

Roberta Opheim, the state's ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities, said the state lost focus on its own efforts monitoring its disabled workforce.

Dayton's new order could reverse that. It requires agencies' hiring managers and human resource employees to undergo training to recruit and hire employees with disabilities, as well as submit quarterly progress reports. It also directs the state to ease the process for employees to update their disability status.

The governor's order could be "a slam dunk, politically," said Galen Smith with the Twin Cities Metro chapter of ADAPT, a local disability rights group. "This shows leadership while acknowledging the problem."

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