Governor Pat Quinn today signed the "Employment First Act," a new law which requires Illinois state agencies to work together to make employment for people with disabilities a priority.
The legislation was first proposed by Governor Quinn in his 2013 State of the State address and is part of his agenda to ensure all people have the opportunity to follow their dreams and reach their full potential.
"Every person in the Land of Lincoln should have the opportunity -- regardless of the challenges they face -- to pursue their dreams and achieve their full potential," Governor Quinn said. "My goal is to make Illinois the nation's leading employer of people with disabilities. We've made historic progress to change Illinois through our Rebalancing Initiative and today, we are breaking down more barriers to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities in our state."
Sponsored by State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie) and State Rep. Esther Golar (D-Chicago), House Bill 2591 requires all state agencies to work together to make competitive employment for people with disabilities a priority and establish measurable goals and objectives for the state. The law requires the Employment and Economic Opportunity for Persons with Disabilities Task Force (EEOPWD) -- created in 2009 -- to monitor progress towards this mission. All state agencies will be required to share data and information and ensure all policies, procedures and practices are aligned to these goals and objectives. The EEOPWD Task Force includes advocates, individuals with disabilities, business community members, disability services providers, representatives of state agencies and other stakeholders.
"The Employment First Act will go a long way toward aligning state policy with Illinois' values of inclusion and fair pay for people with disabilities," Sen. Biss said. "Illinois residents with disabilities have much to contribute to our workforce, and the law signed today will maximize their opportunities to live and work with dignity."
"People with disabilities deserve an equal opportunity to receive gainful employment," Rep. Golar said. "This legislation will level the playing field and make sure that no one is denied employment at a state agency simply because they have a disability."
Employment First is modeled from a national movement that believes employment in the general workforce is the first and preferred option when exploring goals and a life path for people with disabilities. Competitive work in integrated settings for people with disabilities is proven to foster self-sufficiency, independent living, higher self-esteem and better integration into the community at-large.
Governor Quinn has been recognized both nationally and locally as a champion for people with disabilities. Two years ago, the governor launched his Rebalancing Initiative to improve the state's system of caring for those with disabilities and mental health challenges. The initiative has successfully moved hundreds of people with disabilities out of institutions and into community-based care.
The Arc of the United States recently named Governor Quinn the Advocacy Matters! Award recipient for 2013, which is The Arc's most prestigious honor. The award is presented annually to proven leaders who advocate and protect the civil and human rights of people with disabilities and increase resources, services and supports that promote their full inclusion and participation in the community.
"Governor Quinn is to be commended on his vision and perseverance in guaranteeing people with disabilities the chance to live their dreams," Tony Paulauski, executive director of The Arc of Illinois. "The Employment First initiative provides equal opportunity to achieve their potential and benefits the people of Illinois by offering a diverse workforce and unique perspective."
Today's bill signing takes place at the Illinois Department of Human Services event which celebrates the 23rd anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. This year's 23rd anniversary celebration, titled "ADA Breaking Down the Barriers," highlights the accomplishments of people with disabilities and recognizes how state agencies and other organizations have worked to comply with this law, improving access to environments, programs, services and opportunities for people with disabilities.
The law is effective immediately.