Let's Startup N.Y. Together!

In one month, we will be crossing New York State in our Journey Along the Erie Canal again in support of opportunities for all abilities. As we prepare, I am still thinking about how New York can stand tall in economic opportunity for those often forgotten.

I have an important request for New York State. In reading the a recent New York Times article in regard to the settlement with the state of Rhode Island, I believe there's a unique opportunity for Gov. Cuomo to lead the United States in economic opportunity.

Now is the time for New York State to lead the United States in advancing employment opportunities for people with disabilities! Everybody understands the impact of budget cuts on developmental disability organizations, but it is time to begin healing those wounds by creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities as well as organizations and businesses in New York State.

Did you know the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities is still 14 percent, plus?

As happened in the building of the Erie Canal in the mid-1800s, New York has the opportunity to advance economic development in a most impactful way by creating new mentoring networks, business opportunities and educational practices for individuals with disabilities from the junior high school level right on through retirement.

What can Gov. Cuomo and New York State do?

• Create and support mentor networks for individuals with disabilities from junior high school right through their professional career. We are building Our Ability Connect -- a tool to mentor individuals with disabilities, as well as businesses, looking for individuals with disabilities on a one-on-one basis. This is the kind of private public partnership that works well and can support economic growth for individuals with disabilities. Our Ability Connect Is a tool I believe non-regents students can use to support their abilities in their careers today as well as tomorrow. Presently, we are working with ACCES-VR and State Ed to see where we fit.

• Expand the minority and women-owned business opportunities to include businesses owned by individuals with disabilities. Expanding the contract opportunities for businesses owned by individuals with disabilities will further the economic growth for individuals, as well as create another employment avenue for those underemployed and unemployed.

• Create an executive order requiring those businesses taking advantage of Startup New York (with zero percent tax packages that have either relocated or are growing inside New York State) to include seven percent of their existing workforce base as individuals with disabilities. This reflects the federal law in Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act.

• Create and support job-carving opportunities for businesses to be able to create and open doors to new opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Often times, we need to look at a problem in a new manner to find a solution, and this is no different with high turnover positions inside businesses. By creating new ways to look at the problem, we are able to provide more employment opportunities to people disabilities.

I further support some of the other recommendations as reported in the New York Times:

■ Help state residents with developmental disabilities obtain typical jobs in the community that pay at least the minimum wage and offer the maximum number of hours consistent with the employee's abilities and preferences;

■ Provide support for non-work activities in the mainstream, including community centers, libraries, and recreational and educational facilities;

■ Prepare high school-age students with developmental disabilities for competitive jobs in the community through internships and mentoring programs, among other efforts;

■ Redirect the "significant" public funds that are used to support segregated settings toward encouraging services in integrated settings.

Again New York can lead employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities for the next 25 years! It's time to build again New York.