By any measure, John Robinson’s resume is enviable. He’s had a successful two-decade career in media sales; has written a book; produced a documentary, and now owns his own company. He describes Our Ability as “the bridge to employment between companies in New York state and individual with disabilities.”
“I wouldn’t be here without the [Americans with Disabilities Act,]” Robinson says. “But I don’t want to look back at ‘hashtag ADA at 40’ and see that we haven’t moved forward.”
Robinson was born with a congenital defect that affects his arms and legs.
He says that for real equality to happen, New York needs to expand education, inclusion, and employment.
“When somebody goes to work and they are able-bodied, they come out [of school] with all of those skills,” he explains. “For the physical or developmental disability population, it’s a longer path, but you can still train around those skills that are needed.”
He believes that the way to ensure those skills are taught are through legislative action.
“In 2014, under the Obama administration, the ADA was expanded with Section 503, which states that if you have a federal contract or sub-contract, you have to show that 7% of your employees are people with disabilities, or that you are actively working towards that goal.”
According to Robinson, neither the New York state legislature nor the executive branch have taken those goals to heart.
“They want to recommend that companies work toward employment levels, but they’ve never wanted to have a number,” he said.
Robinson’s organization, Our Ability, has joined with others to push the state of New York to require that companies with state contracts or subcontracts have hired people with disabilities to fill at least 7% of their workforces.
“If every state contractor and subcontractor had to have 7%, then they would reach out to me, they would reach out to NYSID (New York State Industries for the Disabled); they would reach out to ARCs and they would reach out to schools of the world,” explains Robinson.
Robinson says the schools would realize they’re not ready for this, and the State Education Department would have to create a plan to ensure that schools prepare individuals with disabilities for employment.
“That is the catalyst,” Robinson says. “It is going to take the business community through a legislative effort to be a catalyst for change.”