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Worker with disability at Northwoods Inc.

Yael Kerzan of Pardeeville works last May on a labeling machine at Northwoods Inc. in Portage. Kerzan, who was born with William Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, also holds a part-time job at Walmart. Kerzan said employer misconceptions about hiring people with disabilities can sometimes be tough to overcome. FILE PHOTO

Gov. Scott Walker seems to be eating too much Swiss cheese lately. His State of the State address was so full of holes, I had to turn it off. The big one is that Wisconsin is ranked in the top 10 for people with disabilities who are working. He pointed to Project SEARCH, which has an 88 percent employment rate, but didn't mention that students with disabilities are expected to work for free through high school to prove they can do the jobs.

Wisconsin is ranked in the bottom half in terms of people who have disabilities getting elected to office. There are only two that I recall. One is Nicki Vander Muelen on the Madison School Board. The other is Jimmy Anderson, a state rep from Fitchburg. I ask myself why this is; I think we all know the reason. People with disabilities often live in poverty and therefore have a hard time raising money. I for one should know, as a person with autism and mental health challenges who was a candidate for the Dane County Board, that it is hard to raise money to fund a campaign.

The state of Wisconsin is in the middle when it comes to job creation for people with disabilities and non-disabled adults who want to work.  Walker may have brought people with disabilities into the State of the State address, but he failed to mention what kinds of jobs they have or if they still live in poverty with the types of jobs they have. Yes, it is terrific they are employed, but many of them have minimum wage jobs. How many hours are they working? Are they in segregated employment? Are they in sheltered workshops without meaningful work?

While I'm at it, Walker said one person with disabilities he mentioned in his speech lacks transportation to get to and from work. Then why is he not putting more money into the state's transportation fund? What about funding research on driverless cars, instead of just having a committee looking into it? 

Disabled people want what everybody else wants: a chance to raise a family. But many are unable to because they live in poverty, live paycheck to paycheck, or live on Social Security. Another fact is that employers do not want to hire people with disabilities because they don’t think that people with disabilities can handle working a normal job or they do not want to provide accommodations for people who happen to have disabilities. We need inclusion. Walker may be right about some of the things in his State of the State speech, but he is only telling half-truths. In reality, Wisconsin has a long way to go in terms of disability rights.

Adam Brabender is a member of the Disability Pride Madison board, a former member of the Dane County Equal Opportunities Commission, a member of the Democratic Party, and a UW-Whitewater student.

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