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Governor Declares NC an Employment First State

Gov. Roy Cooper declared North Carolina an Employment First state last week, signing an executive order to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

“North Carolina can be its best when all people have the opportunity to achieve their potential and live lives of purpose, including North Carolinians with disabilities,” Gov. Cooper said. “With this order, I’m establishing meaningful work as the first and preferred choice for all North Carolinians, regardless of disability, and directing state government to lead the way on including more people with disabilities in the workplace.”

The order, titled Employment First for North Carolinians with Disabilities, directs the NC Office of State Human Resources to collaborate with the Department of Health and Human Services to enhance recruitment and outreach efforts to potential workers with disabilities and to identify and attract qualified individuals with disabilities for state employment.

The principles of Employment First include:

  • working in integrated settings
  • earning competitive wages and benefits
  • securing employment with reasonable and appropriate placement and support
  • valuing employees with disabilities equally valued
  • matching jobs to individuals’ skills, abilities, and career choices to the greatest extent possible


In a news release, the governor’s office noted that increasing employment for people with disabilities increases independence and results in cost savings for behavioral health services, intellectual/developmental disability services, and acute health care. It is also good for businesses and other employers, resulting in lower employee turnover, increased productivity, and access to a broader pool of skilled workers.

“The Autism Society of North Carolina is excited to see the administration recognize the importance of employment for people with disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum,” said Tracey Sheriff, CEO of ASNC. “Studies have shown that the majority of adults with autism are not employed or are under-employed. We believe that meaningful employment is a key to a fulfilling life in the community, and we have worked for decades to make that a reality for as many people as possible. We thank the state for leading in these efforts.”

State agencies, including NC Vocational Rehabilitation, Division of Mental Health/Substance Abuse Services/Developmental Disabilities, Office of Disability Employment Policy; nonprofit organizations such as the Association of People Supporting Employment First; and community advocates including ASNC have been working on this issue for years.

Families also can play a role in supporting employment for people with disabilities by educating others about the need and making personal connections. Read this blog post for more details about those ideas and ways ASNC’s Employment Supports staff works to identify, expand and – in some cases – create employment opportunities for adults with autism.

“A large and capable untapped pool of talent exists, and we commit to work closely within state government to address the barriers and create opportunities for North Carolinians with disabilities who want to be employed,” said Chris Egan, senior director at the Department of Health and Human Services. Egan recently spoke at the Autism Society of North Carolina’s annual conference in Charlotte. He presented on resources available from the state for individuals with autism to help them attain employment.

“This is a win for the employee, for the state as employer, and for our communities.”

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