October 2022 Accessibility Corner Blog: Disability Employment Awareness Month

Colorado’s Creative Economy and Disability Justice

Text saying "removing barriers to the artist workforce and beyond to create an inclusive and accessible Colorado for all"; clip art of two women using ASL on a couch, a man walking with a service dog, and a male office worker in a wheelchair

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month!  

As the voice of artists and creatives across the state, Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) encourages our grantees and constituents to amplify the creative accomplishments and potential of those in the workforce who are living with disabilities, especially in the creative sector. Using the lens of the creative economy, we are dedicating this month's Accessibility Corner blog to "disability economic justice" in the creative industries. Disability impacts us all at some point in our lives; we must educate ourselves and acknowledge that we all still have a lot of work to do.

It was visionary to redefine Colorado's state art agency to meet the needs of 21st-century artists, creators, designers, and creative innovators. Colorado Creative Industries' reimagined mission is to promote, support, and expand the creative industries to drive Colorado’s economy, grow jobs, and enhance our quality of life. CCI’s program priorities include 1) Increasing access to direct financial support for creatives and 2) Creating and expanding professional development and networking opportunities for artists/creatives. We serve all, regardless of ability, race, geography, socioeconomic status, and gender orientation.

The creative economy is proving it can create transformational change and impactful benefits across the vast geography of economic sectors and various underserved populations, including those living with disabilities.

  • Colorado ranks in the top 5 states in the number of people performing and creating art. Much like the rapid development of digital technology, the creative industries have grown into a $763B global sector. 
  • In Colorado, arts and cultural production accounted for $14B added to the economy in Colorado. Contributing 97K jobs and $8.7B in arts worker compensation.

Conversely, artists and creative workforces have been most harmed by recent health and economic crises, especially those living with a disability.

  • While people living with a disability make up 25% of the population, they only make up only 4% of the US labor force. 
  • In 2019, 21.6% of disabled people were considered poor based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure Census.
  • Disabled employees are “significantly under-represented” in the arts/creative industries, and progress must be made in this area.
  • In the creative sector, average unemployment rates for people living with a disability are 3 to 4 percentage points higher than those without a disability.

Creative Economy + On-ramps for Disability Economic Justice 

The creative industries focus on the place where the creative person transforms an idea/concept into something else and adds value. The UN sees building a creative economy as an inclusive, sustainable development instrument. 

Research shows that the sector provides on-ramps to resilient jobs, attainable housing, and livability for people living with a disability and those living in distressed communities across the state.

The problem: 

  • In 2021, only 19.1% of people with disabilities were employed, compared to 63.7% of non-disabled people.
  • From January 2020 through January 2022, people employed in the sector who identified a disability averaged almost 5% of sector employment while representing about 4% of the labor force.
  • Accessibility and inclusion are not just moral imperatives but economic and social ones.
  • Before the creative industries grow even more prominent, the field must become more accessible, inclusive, and sustainable.


We have found that many of our applicants, grantees, and partners have the organizational will to ‘do the work, but lack the financial resources, bandwidth, disabled staff, and disability expertise to do so effectively. Many struggle with how to 1.) find resources, experts, and partners, 2.) improve human resources, and 3.) access funding. 


The creative industries are economic drivers creating onramps for opportunities for women, young people, rural towns, traditionally marginalized people, and those living with disabilities. The sector can do more by partnering with disability organizations, recruiting and retaining disabled employees, and including disabled people in agenda setting.

Here are five valuable strategies that the creative industries can do now:

1: Educate your organization.

Understanding disability and building institutional knowledge is a critical first step. There is a lot to learn, and many organizations have successfully walked this path. Here are a few resources that will help you get started: Colorado Employment First and CDHS/Disability Services

2: Become a more mindful, inclusive employer.

In the US, one in five people has a disability, yet workplaces rarely welcome and celebrate disability identity. 

  • Begin with the following questions: Do you provide reasonable accommodations? Are there accessible technologies or policies that allow service animals or flexible working hours? What percentage of your team has a disability? 
  • Start with incorporating disability in your employee surveys to create crucial baseline data that will help you understand how many staff self-identify as having disabilities and how you could strengthen your culture of inclusion.
  • As part of the legal requirements of the ADA, we encourage organizations to develop a new reasonable accommodations policy (both for employees and patrons).
  • Be intersectional, inclusive, and Intentional with your hiring strategies. Simply put, this principle says that we are many things, and they all impact us.
  • Consider doing an organization audit. Becoming a genuinely accessible organization is ongoing and relational. It requires engagement from across your team, but an audit will help you recognize missteps and begin to build an inclusive culture that supports people with disabilities and makes them feel valued and welcome.
  • While making an organization truly inclusive requires time and resources, creating safe spaces for employees can be a valuable—and immediate—offering in the right direction.

3: Make your communications more accessible.

  • Changing how you communicate with and about the disability community is essential, but it’s also a tangible and practical undertaking for organizations new to disability justice work. Small changes can go a long way. 
  • Longer-term efforts include creating an accessible website, videos, and PDFs, and the National Disability Rights Network provides helpful communication guidelines. Also, check out our recent webinar on digital accessibility and Art 4 Access Denver's resource list. 

4: Identify opportunities for collaboration with the disability movement.

To date, just 2% of funding for human rights includes people with disabilities, when it should be ten times that to reflect our population. We know there is power in numbers when advocating for systemic change. 

  • Joining forces with the disability community can build a stronger, more united front when taking on an issue and increase attention for disability rights organizations seeking greater visibility and support from the funding community. 
  • Likewise, supporting and proactively co-developing policies for arts education, the creative economy, and livability for an emerging creative workforce is essential. Elected officials must continue to understand a successful creative sector results in job and business creation, wealth building, and community well-being. 

5: Rethink your definition of “justice.”

We are all working toward a more fair, equitable world, but that requires expanding how we think about equity and justice. When we seek to be more inclusive, we must ask, “Who are we leaving out?” Undoing and unlearning ableism in our organizations, creative industries, and arts/cultural space takes real commitment, time, curiosity, and hard work. 

CCI resources

We must start where we are with the resources that we have. Most important is the long-term commitment to do better and the organizational will to make it happen. CCI invites you to sign up for our newsletter to stay connected and informed and peruse our Accessibility Corner for previous months' webinars focused on Accessibility, Belonging, and Inclusion. 

Other possible resources

The Disability and Philanthropy Forum has developed a working list of resources, experts, and partners in the arts, film, and journalism fields. The list is neither comprehensive nor static. It’s live. Sins Invalid has created a disability justice primer, Skin, Tooth, and Bone: The Basis of Movement is Our People. It offers concrete suggestions for moving beyond the socialization of ableism, how to commit to mixed-ability organizing, and access suggestions for events. It also provides analysis, history, and context for the growing Disability Justice Movement.

Created by Marcie Moore Gantz, Grants/Accessibility Manager for Colorado Creative Industries.