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Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor Add Us In National Diversity Forum

Location: Unknown

Good morning everyone. Buenos dias!

Thank you for that kind introduction, Kathy. The Department of Labor is so fortunate to have Kathy leading our Office of Disability Employment Policy. Kathy has been a pioneer in the Independent Living Movement, and she has done incredible work to make sure that people living with disabilities have access to all aspects of community life, which can't happen in the absence of employment.

Kathy believes, as I do, that Americans with disabilities are able to make enormous contributions to our economic recovery if we make modest accommodations to let them utilize their talent.

We have a great group here today. I want to welcome leaders from the small business community, as well as disability advocates, diversity executives, workforce development professionals and leaders from our sister agencies. I also want to thank our representatives from national business associations who are here today.

We gather today at a defining moment for our country. The steps we take as a nation to recover from this recession matter to American workers across all walks of life. Our economic downtown has cut across gender, ethnicity, age group, income level, and disability status. It has been hard on everyone, and the disability community is no exception. But America will bounce back -- we always do -- and today's forum is one important step in that process.

Almost 8 in 10 adults with a disability are currently out of the workforce -- compared to 3 in 10 for those without a disability. For Americans with disabilities who come from underserved and historically excluded communities, finding a job today can be especially difficult.

When I became Labor Secretary, I made a commitment that my Department would help all Americans who are looking for work find good and safe jobs. We're here today to make the business case for why small businesses should hire people with disabilities and to brainstorm ways to harness the enormous untapped potential of these incredible Americans.

Specifically, we want to create new partnerships to help minority-owned small businesses expand their capacity to hire and retain outstanding workers who happen to have a disability. To achieve a full recovery, we don't have a person to lose. We can't spare anyone's talent.

Let me be very clear: People with disabilities can and want to work. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence proving that workers with disabilities meet or exceed the job performance of those without them. Smart business leaders want to hire the best person for the job, regardless of disability status.

Over the past 2 ½ years, we've heard from many small business owners who want to give job opportunities to persons with disabilities, but they need information about effective strategies to do so. Last year, we launched the "Add Us In" Initiative to bring together stakeholders to identify and develop those strategies. Our goal is to create new employment opportunities in the small business sector for Americans with disabilities

Now, why is this so important? Let me tell you.

Small businesses create two thirds of all new private sector jobs and employ half of all working Americans. Nationally, some of the most encouraging growth of our recovery is happening in small businesses owned by minorities. Minority-owned firms have been growing at double the rate of all firms in the United States. Minorities own 15 percent of all U.S. businesses -- or more than 3 million firms.

Minority-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses and women-owned businesses have a special understanding of the value of a diverse and inclusive workforce culture. Many of these businesses have shown a deep commitment to take care of their own. Working together, we can show them how.

Simple things like workplace flexibility can create work schedules that make room for regular medical appointments, childcare issues and other unique employee needs. For example, telework options can help people with mobility disabilities, physical stamina issues, and those with susceptibility to airborne illnesses. Workplace flexibility allows individuals with disabilities to keep not only their jobs, but their dignity and worth in today's society.

Today's National Diversity Forum is about uniting many of our brightest thinkers across multiple fields to create a winning blueprint for disability hiring in the small business sector. Our first round of grantees all share one thing in common: they're all using collaborative networks. Each grantee brings together partners from workforce systems, education and rehabilitation systems, business associations and disability organizations. We believe this combined expertise can and will expand the capacity of minority-owned small businesses to put talented Americans with disabilities to work.

This morning in the lobby, I hope you had the chance to learn about the work of our current "Add Us In" grantees. Our Connecticut consortium is helping LGBT job-seekers with disabilities. Our Oklahoma grantee is helping tribal populations. Our Missouri consortium is focused on African-American youth with disabilities. And our California grantee is doing incredible work with ex-gang members and formerly incarcerated persons with disabilities.

I hope they will spark a discussion today of how we can build on their work to create business models that include disability as part of diversity initiatives that can be used across the country. We want you to be inspired, because we have resources to help leaders like you.

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Department of Labor is now soliciting applications for our second round of grants under the "Add Us In" program. We will be awarding three grants of at least a half-million dollars each to minority-owned small businesses that serve historically excluded communities.

We're looking for partners to continue our work in strengthening connections between business groups, disability advocates, youth-serving organizations, and workforce boards and employment centers. Our ultimate goal is to widen the scope of workplace diversity to include persons with disabilities.

For our small business owners, we want to help show you ways to include workers with disabilities in your hiring strategies in a smart and cost-effective way, because doing so is good for society, good for our economic recovery and good for your company's bottom line.

Thank you all for being here today. I look forward to hearing an in-depth report on the progress we make at today's forum. Together, I know we can forge an economic recovery that leaves no group of Americans behind.

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