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Lesser: Jobs Bill Step Toward More Well-Paying Work for Disabled

After a reader charged the state rep. was perpetuating the idea that people with disabilities are only suited for menial custodial duties, the legislator disagrees.

State Rep. Matt Lesser
State Rep. Matt Lesser

On Dec. 5, Patch reader Eric Lopkin wrote an open letter to Middletown's Democratic State Rep. Matt Lesser. In it, he disputes Lesser's Capitol Report 2013 claim that he stood up for people with disabilities by fighting to pass legislation to set aside a third of janitorial jobs in state buildings for the disabled.

Lopkin, who is legally blind, wrote that he's become personally exasperated that while looking for work he's encountered staff at state agencies and non-profit organizations who tout job opportunities in janitorial and call center work.

"We are entrepreneurs and executives. We are accountants and marketers. We are farmers and printers. We run marathons. We come from all walks of life and are capable  of amazing feats. Disabilities affect different people in different ways, but the state insists on treating us all the same," Lopkin wrote.

Lesser responded by saying he hopes the janitorial work bill is just the beginning of the Connecticut Legislature's work toward opening more high-paying jobs with benefits to residents with disabilities. 

The full text of his response is below. 

Mr. Lopkin, You raise a great point. We need to make sure in this state that opportunities are available to all our residents, including those living with disabilities. 

This is an issue I care about passionately, and I welcome all ideas — including any that you might have — about what we can do to make state employment more open and accessible to people with disabilities. We have come a long way since passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, but there is still much more work to do. 

In that line, I was proud to champion legislation this year providing more employment opportunities to people living with disabilities, which I fought for at the request of disability advocates. In sponsoring that legislation, it was not my intention to suggest that janitorial work is the only work appropriate for people with disabilities. Obviously that is not the case. 

But what I hear from too many Middletown residents living with disabilities is that there are too few employment opportunities of any kind out there. This new law sets aside relatively high-paying, high-benefit jobs for those folks if they want them without preventing anybody from working elsewhere. 

By no means does that indicate that I would not support efforts to expand opportunities in other ways. People with disabilities work as engineers, doctors, lawyers — and in the case of Dannel Malloy — as Governor of the State of Connecticut. 

We should be proud that Connecticut has been at the forefront of the disability rights movement and we should do more to recognize that what we call "disability" can be manifest in many different ways. 

If you took offense at my comments, then I sincerely regret that, but my intent has and continues to be to provide every opportunity for all Connecticut residents to have the same rights to quality employment. Again, I invite you to share with me any ideas that you might have about other ways we can make the state work better for all of our residents. 

What do you think about employment opportunities for the disabled in Connecticut? Have you or do you know someone who has had a similar experience? Tell us in the comments section below.

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