The New Millennium
Cori Mitchell and her family had moved to Indiana after a car accident as a high school senior in Colorado left her with a head injury. Following a period of rehabilitation, she secured employment with the help of Indiana’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Interviewed in 2013, Cori described her love for the position she’d had over the previous 13 years as a ticket taker in two Bloomington movie theaters. “It gives me an opportunity to see faces that I don't normally see.” At the grocery store, her customers would come over to talk with her. Relationships with people on the job were important too; she was taking advantage of free movie tickets to go to shows with coworkers on her days off. Cori’s employer was flexible in accommodating her memory difficulties and other challenges. “They have given me one accommodation I just love,” a chair that allows her the option to work sitting down. “I kind of thought that was a waste of time really at first, but now I'm finding I love it. It's necessary.”
Assistive technology, facilitating communication, mobility, and other functions, is essential for some employees with disabilities. In 2007, Easterseals Crossroads partnered with Indiana’s Bureau of Rehabilitative Services to establish the Indiana Assistive Technology Act (INDATA) Project. INDATA is one of 56 federally-funded projects designed to increase access to equipment or systems used to maintain or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. In 2009, Indiana passed legislation that allows individuals to be accompanied by their service animals in places of employment and schools.
In 2008, following years of backlash against the ADA and a series of court decisions that weakened its protections, the work of disability advocates led to passage of the ADA Amendments Act. The law’s stated purpose was “to restore the intent and protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”
Melody Cooper recalls, “I use to work at Meijers. I remember a person asked me one day, ‘Melody, is this the kind of job you want?’ I go, ‘No, I want a career.’ I couldn't see myself making a career standing bagging somebody's groceries.” She reflects, “I think about a lot of times where I came from and how I started.” After completing the leadership training program Partners in Policymaking, she got involved in Self-Advocates of Indiana in 2000. She became the group’s Vice-President and then, “I jumped from that to being President, and I could see myself as a leader.” Interviewed in 2017, she was employed by The Arc of Indiana as a Self-Advocate Specialist. “This job I have now, I feel like it's led me to be able to grow.” “I can see myself changing.”
However, for most adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, progress bringing them into the competitive workforce had slowed in the new millennium. This has been particularly disheartening in Indiana, after the successes at the end of the century. “I see stagnation in supported employment all over the country,” Connie Ferrell observed in 2015. “I think one of the things that's so disappointing to me about Indiana's plateau or stagnation is that the 90s was an incredible decade for Indiana. We were way ahead. We got into the game late and surpassed many other states and agencies in terms of movement in the direction of community inclusion and supported employment.”
In 2016, the Indiana Day and Employment Services Outcome System Report described the state of employment services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For individuals receiving day and employment services, “the hours of weekly pay and hours worked continues to stagnate.” For those in day programs not offering employment, “there seems to be a steady decline with individuals accessing their community, from 10 percent in 2011 to 3 percent in 2016.” Just 27 percent of those surveyed were employed in competitive jobs, not much more than the 25 percent still in sheltered workshops.
For Americans with disabilities overall, across all disabilities, 2017 has brought modest but steady gains. As of October, there had been 18 months of growth towards pre-recession employment levels, according to a University of New Hampshire nTIDE report.