As a person with a disability, lead House Bill 400 co-sponsor Senator Christine Tartaglione knows first-hand about many of the issues facing the disability community.
Sen. Tartaglione, minority chair of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee is a champion for helping young people with disabilities get summer and part-time jobs as they prepare for work after high school. She represents the Second Senatorial District in Philadelphia. She is a Democrat.
She is a co-sponsor of SB 200, authored by Sen. Lisa Baker, chair of the Committee, and has voted in support of the House version of the legislation, HB 400, which has passed the House and is now waiting for a final vote in the Senate.
“I believe we [can] do a better job of supporting students with disabilities in primary and secondary school, so that they are prepared for life when they graduate, whether that includes additional schooling, employment or volunteering opportunities. These students should receive the same opportunities as non-disabled students with regard to developing their skills and abilities, determining their areas of interest and helping them find internship and job shadowing opportunities. Not only is this critical to the future of these students, but also, it is critical to the future of Pennsylvania, especially as our disabled population continues to expand each year.”
As an individual using a wheelchair, Sen. Tartaglione says she is in a unique position serving as a senator. Her disability and role in the General Assembly give her a perspective of the world different than most other people.
“I have heard from and witnessed individuals with disabilities struggling to find employment. Our state unemployment rate for persons with disabilities who want to work and can work is around 14 percent, which is unacceptable. We need to do a better job of helping individuals with disabilities find quality jobs that pay fair wages.”
Sen. Tartaglione believes that while young people with disabilities receive more support services during primary and secondary school than ever before, these services fail to adequately prepare them for the workforce or a post-secondary education.
“When they graduate, they are not prepared for or able to pursue a post-secondary education, nor do they have a link to a particular industry or employer–they are on their own. Although they may be ready to work in an integrated setting with non-disabled persons, they don’t know how or where to find such a job. [By passing HB 400] we are finally acknowledging that Pennsylvania has a problem when it comes to its rate of employment for persons with disabilities. We have not been working in the best interests of disabled persons, especially those who recently graduated from high school, but we understand the importance of doing so, and we hope [HB 400] will bring us closer to realizing that goal.”
Sen. Tartaglione believes that HB 400’s plan to leverage state funds into more federal funding “is a smart decision for Pennsylvanians. By choosing to invest our sparse state dollars in students with disabilities, we will maximize the return on our investment from the federal government, instead of wasting federal money.”
Sen. Tartaglione has a wealth of experience advocating for young people with disabilities. She works with many organizations that assist people with disabilities to discuss concerns across the state.
Her experience has made her an advocate for accessibility in the Pennsylvania Capitol and public places.
“As a result of my own struggles to find accessible transportation and housing and to maneuver in my job at the Capitol and in my district, I have helped many other individuals with physical disabilities gain accessible accommodations,” she adds, noting she plans on using this year’s Disability Awareness Day in Harrisburg as an opportunity to create job shadowing opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Job shadowing, she says, will help persons with disabilities “gain insight into the work of Senators and Representatives on session days, and, similarly, Senators and Representatives may realize the capabilities of disabled individuals in the work place.”
By Alexa Brill