Oct 20, 2021, | Testimony
My name is John Robinson. I am President and CEO of Our Ability, Inc. located at 66 S. Pearl St. in Albany. I am a quadruple congenital amputee. Our Ability is an organization that builds employment for individuals with disabilities. In the past three years, we have worked closely with Microsoft and Syracuse University to develop an artificial intelligence engine that assesses skills of individuals with disabilities and matches them to anyone of our 75,000+ jobs in North America. We work throughout New York State and license our product with partners in Canada and the United States.
Because we are in Albany, I am well-versed with New York’s relationship with individuals with disabilities. I believe we are at an important crossroads for the disabled in New York State. Coming out of a virus, we have an opportunity inside the business community to expand employment. The unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities has been 70%. This is the time to make the necessary changes to advance opportunity.
I believe we need to start with four items:
1. To establish leadership for individuals with disabilities in New York State. Microsoft asked me two years ago, why was there not a Chief Accessibility Officer within the governor’s office that would be the lead to all disability related issues in New York State. Why didn’t every city have a Chief Accessibility Officer? Our first request is to appoint a Chief Accessibility Officer and give them the resources to affect change. The disability community and corporate America will take New York State more seriously in regard to individuals with disabilities.
2. New York State must end sub-minimum wage.
3. Mandates work. In 2014 when the federal government put more percentage stipulations on the number of employees working on federal contracts, our numbers started to go up. In New York State, there should be percentages of either employees with disabilities within companies that work on New York contracts and businesses owned by individuals with disabilities fulfill a percentage of state contracts.
4. It is time to reconsider how Social Security disability benefits, health insurance etc. are allocated to individuals with disabilities. I understand this is as much a federal issue as a state issue, but I see an opportunity for New York State to lead.
It would be my approach to find a new solution for health insurance for those of us that are proud profoundly disabled. And, to provide a new model of Social Security disability as a stipend to individuals with disabilities. Presently individuals with disabilities to receive Social Security disability can only earn a certain number of hours of external employment, then dollars and Medicaid are removed. The fear of losing Medicaid is the biggest hindrance to employment for individuals with disabilities. New York State should provide an income dividend and state provided health insurance for all individuals who are profoundly disabled and eliminate any hindrance. This will assist and support individuals with disabilities to look for additional income through employment.
I believe we can increase opportunity in New York State. I believe New York State can be a leader in the United States for individuals with disabilities.