Job Crunch Even Harder On People With Disabilities Large numbers of Americans are still losing their jobs, but the unemployment rate is particularly high among people with disabilities. They are almost twice as likely to get laid off and they have a harder time finding new jobs.

Job Crunch Even Harder On People With Disabilities

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NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports on the challenges facing one American.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: Unidentified Woman: Hello, this is video relay service. I'm interpreter number 3555. Are you trying to reach Leonard Kepil?


SHAPIRO: My call reaches a sign language interpreter. She then connects to Kepil. They can see each other because they are both video phones. I'm not, I'm on a regular phone. The interpreter listens to my questions then she signs them over the video phone to Kepil, and he answers in his own voice.

LEONARD KEPIL: Hi, Joe. How are you doing?

SHAPIRO: I'm doing fine. It's good to talk to you.

KEPIL: Can you hear me okay?

SHAPIRO: The video relay makes it easy for a deaf man like Kepil to use the phone. Still, Kepil got laid off from his job, this spring, as a software test engineer - his whole department took a hit. And now, when he talks to a prospective employer, he says the relay system can get in the way.

KEPIL: In my case, you know, I can talk and I can convey my technical knowledge. However, when they ask me questions, the interpreter is going to hear terms that they've never heard and they're going to try their best to try and tell me what's going on, but still, it makes it very awkward. And it could sound often that you're hesitant, not confident, not really understanding what's going on.

SHAPIRO: Economist, Andrew Houtenville, at the University of New Hampshire says when the unemployment rate hit 10.2 percent in October, the numbers were much grimmer for working age people with disabilities.

ANDREW HOUTENVILLE: So, it's quite dramatic. You're talking about an unemployment rate for people with disabilities of around 17.5 percent.

SHAPIRO: Richard Horn is with the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.

RICHARD HORN: Twenty-one million, out of 26 million people with disabilities, were not even in the labor force.

SHAPIRO: Surveys show most of these people want to work, but after looking and getting nowhere, they stop trying.

HORN: So, they're not looking for work, they feel there are no jobs for them, they are very marginally attached to the labor force. From - for our thinking, is that it's this persistence for people with disabilities not being in the labor force, and why is that? That, to me, is the challenge.

SHAPIRO: One problem is that workers with disabilities often rely on government health care, but they can lose it if they make too much in salary. So, there's a disincentive to work. Another challenge is that employers might underestimate someone's ability to do a job or fear they'll get sued if things don't work out.

BARBARA OTTO: This recession is really different.

SHAPIRO: Barbara Otto of Health and Disability Advocates in Chicago helps people find work or social services, only states have cut back on assistance.

OTTO: In past economic downturns, state budgets weren't so tight and people might be able to access post-secondary education or other vocational training to help them improve their odds of getting a job. But now with state budget cuts, it's really tough.

SHAPIRO: At age 54, Lenny Kepil's a realist.

KEPIL: Because the economy is so bad, I'm actually doing a two-track approach. I'm looking for jobs and I'm also getting ready for an early retirement. I'll probably have to sell the house. I would probably have to move to a state where the cost of living isn't quite so high. Beyond that, I don't know. I have never been retired, so it's going to be a learning experience for me.

SHAPIRO: Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.



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