With Father's Day a few weeks ago, I got to thinking about my parents. My mom and dad took pride in self-reliance and taught me the value of hard work. They both worked hard on our family farm, and when the farm went upside-down financially, they both took jobs as janitors at Augustana College to make ends meet.
Mom and Dad were also both deaf, but their inability to hear did not prevent them from working to support my sisters and me. They taught us that all work has dignity and that idleness is not an option. Their disability led them to develop higher levels of determination and persistence.
People with disabilities work hard for themselves and their families, and I am encouraging South Dakota employers to give them opportunities to prove themselves as employees.
During the past several months, I have worked with Governor Jack Markell of Delaware, the chair of the National Governors Association (NGA), to hold several forums that focus on the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.
My goal is to make South Dakota an "employment-first state." That means our government will commit itself to making employment the first priority and the preferred outcome for our citizens with disabilities. Although many with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, are employed in "shelter work environments," which separate them into separate work places, our goal is to include these people in the regular workforce. Research has shown this to be far better, economically and socially.
Reaching this goal will take a concentrated effort, and there are many stakeholders who can help advance this worthy goal. As with the Criminal Justice Initiative last year, I have created a broadly representative task force to investigate this issue. The group will include those with disabilities and their families; representatives of business and industry; lawmakers; state government officials; and representatives of nonprofit agencies and community providers. I've asked for their recommendations toward increasing the number of South Dakotans with disabilities who are employed.
I believe the time has come for South Dakotans to work together to ensure people with disabilities have the opportunity to do what they want to do -- work alongside their friends and neighbors and provide for themselves and their families.