North Carolina Is Now an Employment First State

By: Taryn Oesch

On March 28, Governor Roy Cooper signed an Executive Order declaring North Carolina an “Employment First state.” The Executive Order stipulates that as an Employment First state, North Carolina’s agencies are to serve as a “model employer” by considering competitive, integrated employment the “preferred mode of employment for all North Carolinians with disabilities regardless of level of disability.”


In competitive, integrated employment, people with disabilities are employed in workplaces of their choosing that also employ people without disabilities and are paid comparable wages. They may receive accommodations and modifications to help them be successful, but they are otherwise employed like their peers without disabilities.


Not everyone with disabilities seeks competitive, integrated employment, of course, just like not everyone without disabilities wants to work in a traditional workplace. Some are entrepreneurs, which is why The Power of the Dream supports micro-enterprise through its PowerUP program. Some enjoy working in places like The Power of the Dream’s  HANDmeUPs Thrift Store, which employs people with autism and/or intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD) almost exclusively as part of our mission to increase jobs for individuals with autism/IDD in our community. The bottom line is that people with disabilities, like people without disabilities, should be able to choose the type of employment that fits their needs, skills and interests.


With the new executive order, Governor Cooper is asking state agencies to improve recruitment of people with disabilities; make the job application process more accessible; implement reasonable, effective workplace accommodations; and put in place other strategies to make their workplaces more inclusive. Even in this improved economy, individuals with autism/IDD still have dire need for jobs as the unemployment rate for this population remains at 85%. The Power of the Dream encourages other employers to get to know the untapped talent that exists in this population, and we are hopeful that we will see more doors and job opportunities open up in our communities across North Carolina.


North Carolina currently ranks 35th nationwide for employment of people with all disabilities, according to WRAL. As Governor Cooper said, “What we’re trying to do is make businesses and everyone else understand that there is an underutilized group of people out here who want to work, who need some accommodation for whatever their disability is, but who can add great value to companies.”


What does the executive order mean?


It means the state is recognizing the contributions that all people can bring to the workplace.


It means the state is setting a goal to become a model employer of an inclusive workforce.


It means that as North Carolinians, we are no longer going to accept the high unemployment rate of people with disabilities as the status quo. We recognize the value of work and the value of the individual person. And we will work to make sure that employers do, too.