Iowa lawmakers visit workplace of constituents with disabilities

The contribution people with disabilities make to the economy is hard to quantify, but last month three Iowa lawmakers got a first-hand look at how hard they work.

As part of October’s National Disability Employment Month, state Sens. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, and Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City, and state Rep. Tim Kacena, D-Sioux City, joined two constituents at their place of employment. Brooke Lovelace, executive director of theĀ Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, said Zaun joined Jessica Williams at an Urbandale Walgreens, while Kacena and Smith visited with Billy Haberman, who works for Lunchtime Solutions at South Sioux City Middle School.

Lovelace said she hopes their visit will have an impact at the State House.

“Hopefully,” she said, “they’ll recognize, “Well, hey, I met Jessica or I met Billy – how would this policy affect them and their supports that they get to be employed and to be part of the community?’ ”

Jessica Williams told Zaun that having a set work schedule is vital to her daily routine, while Billy Haberman shared that his job has given him a sense of purpose and allowed him to lead an independent lifestyle.

Haberman’s job highlights the importance of government-private partnerships in furthering the disabled community’s goals of acceptance and community-based employment, according to Lovelace. She said she worries that Iowa’s low unemployment rate could cause employers to overlook their diverse skills and abilities.

“It’s another way to bring awareness to individuals about the importance of employees with disabilities and the contributions that they make,” she said. “They’re constituents, too. They’re taxpayers. They contribute to the economy and to the community.”

The Developmental Disabilities Council sponsors the campaign, but Lovelace said a fourth person in Spirit Lake initiated her own visit from a lawmaker, which demonstrates that people with disabilities are proud of their work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for job seekers with disabilities is roughly 9%, or more than double that of the non-disabled population.