Photo of Kentucky state capitol.

Kentucky Workforce Landscape Holds Promise for People with Disabilities

Employment is an expectation. Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 furthered that expectation for people with disabilities across the country. In Kentucky, the last few years have brought added impetus through several notable employment initiatives. In 2017, the Kentucky Work Matters Task Force was convened to create responses to barriers for populations that include people with disabilities. Results of Kentucky Work Matters efforts included the Governor signing an executive order, making Kentucky an Employment First state in 2018.

Employment First means that if a person with a disability wants to work, employment shall be the first and preferred option. While the notion of Employment First is simple, carrying out the mandate in the Commonwealth will be challenging. A newly formed Kentuckyworks Collaborative, consisting of a cross section of leaders from business, education and state government are working to carry out a state strategic plan that will promote workforce development, enhance employer engagement, provide lifelong learning for Kentuckians, and align existing resources and organizations. Many elements of the Employment First executive order are also found in the objectives of the Collaborative.

Kathy Sheppard-Jones, Executive Director of the University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute explains, “In our society, we largely define who we are by the work that we do, regardless of whether we have a disability or not. We have an opportunity right now to build collaboration around employment to create a stronger workforce that is inclusive of all people.”

One of the steps that is necessary for progress in this area is to share information about employment efforts that are working in support of improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities. Visit our Employment Initiatives page for a list of Kentucky employment initiatives and partnerships with a disability focus. This is a living webpage that will be continually updated as collaborators and efforts expand. It is a step in sharing the work that is happening in the Commonwealth with new audiences. It is also just one ingredient in impacting employment outcomes. We all need to increase our knowledge about disability and not just opt for what we think we know. For too long, expectations of society at large about the capabilities of people with disabilities have closed the door to work. We must improve our understanding of disability benefits and opportunities that exist for youth with disabilities who are transitioning from high school. Students with disabilities should have the expectation to go on to higher education and employment when they leave school. We must recognize that, with the right supports in place, there is opportunity for ALL people with disabilities. If we do not provide those quality supports, employment will continue to be a promise that lies just out of reach.

For more information about employment, workforce initiatives and UK HDI, contact Dr. Kathy Sheppard-Jones at 859.257.8104 or email .