People with disabilities in the labor force face higher unemployment rates, work fewer hours, earn lower incomes, and accumulate less wealth than those without a disability. According to 2022 data, the unemployment rate for American workers with disabilities is twice that of people without disabilities.
Individuals with disabilities also can encounter several barriers when looking for employment. Workplaces can be inaccessible and lack assistive tools or technologies as well as systems, services, and policies to accommodate employees with disabilities. They may also experience stigma at work.
One initiative that specifically seeks to provide employment opportunities for individuals with various disabilities is the AbilityOne Program. Established in 1938, AbilityOne supplies products and services to the federal government. It remains one of the largest sources of employment for U.S. workers who are blind or have significant disabilities. The program employs more than 36,000 individuals with disabilities, including more than 2,500 veterans.
The federal government coordinates the program with nonprofit agencies that employ individuals with disabilities to deliver goods and services to federal agencies. Nonprofit agencies known as Community Rehabilitation Programs must meet specific criteria and undergo a certification process to participate in the program. Across the 50 states, Guam, and Puerto Rico, there are approximately 500 AbilityOne employers.
In 2022, the AbilityOne Program provided the federal government with $3.9 billion in products and services. The Department of Defense (DoD) is the program’s largest customer. AbilityOne annually supplies $2.1 billion in products and services to the DoD. People employed through the program also provide support in military dining facilities, work in switchboard operations, and sanitize federal buildings and military hospitals.
The AbilityOne workforce played a critical role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonprofits employing people with disabilities manufactured hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment such as masks and gowns.
Benefits of the AbilityOne Program
The AbilityOne Program helps individuals with disabilities develop new skills, gain experience, and generate income. Participants receive training and support to enhance their skills, facilitating personal growth and professional advancement.
Those employed through the program may benefit from increased financial independence and reduced reliance on public assistance. The skills they develop can lead to additional public or private work opportunities. Employment can also lead to more active community participation and may reduce societal stigma.
Obtaining Employment Through AbilityOne
While state vocational rehabilitation counselors commonly refer individuals to AbilityOne, others find the program independently. Qualifying for the program requires having a disability that makes you unable to work in a typical competitive job over an extended duration.
Learn more about AbilityOne jobs by contacting either of the following Central Nonprofit Agencies (CNA):
- National Industries for the Blind (NIB) – Contact Ann Walling at (703) 310-0638 or [email protected], or visit the NIB website
- SourceAmerica – Email [email protected] or visit the SourceAmerica website
For more information about AbilityOne, check out the program’s overview fact sheet. To develop a plan for financial security for yourself or a loved one with a disability, contact a local, qualified special needs planning attorney.