Employment: NDEAM 2016
October and the 2016 National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) are right around the corner, beckoning us to reflect on our past and recommit to improving our future.
When President Harry Truman designated the first week in October, 1945, as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week,” it was not the first effort to promote employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. It was, however, fueled by waves of World War II veterans coming home with disabilities, and influenced by budding civil rights movements that were pushing society to rethink stereotypes and break down walls of segregation. Perhaps, in those heady post-war days of renewed optimism and surging economic growth, we could be forgiven if we believed that high rates of unemployment for individuals with disabilities would soon fall.
Decades of additional public awareness campaigns, employment training and support programs, and legislation followed, including the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Meaningful, integrated employment for people with disabilities is one of the core goals of the ADA. If we look no further than the cold, hard statistics, it appears to be a stubbornly elusive goal. The unemployment rate of people with disabilities is roughly double that of those without disabilities, and has remained so for years, a seemingly fixed disparity.*
Yet there are reasons for hope. There are signs that the laws and programs are bearing fruit by giving people with and without disabilities more opportunities to interact and work together. These personal interactions are the true catalysts for the kind of meaningful change that laws like the ADA aim to achieve – the reduction of fear and bias, the retirement of stereotypes.
Leaders in Employment
Many government agencies and private businesses are embracing workplace diversity and adopting proactive approaches to recruiting, hiring, and accommodating workers with disabilities. These organizations realize the value of including people with a broad range of experiences and perspectives in their workplaces.
Employers like those recognized by the National Organization on Disability (NOD) through their Leading Disability Employer Seal™ program and those recognized by the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) through the Disability Equality Index (DEI) share a commitment to inclusive employment practices. These employers and their workers are leading by example and reaping the benefits, which often extend all the way to the bottom line by enhancing community connections and growing the customer base.
Resources for Employment
There are so many resources, materials, and supports available to facilitate hiring and accommodating workers with disabilities that no employer should feel alone if he or she doesn’t yet have experience in this area.
Government agencies and government-funded projects abound, offering information and assistance to employers and workers alike. The helpful materials on disability employment from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) explain regulatory requirements; the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office on Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and its project the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offer a wealth of practical information and ideas; the ADA National Network, including our Mid-Atlantic ADA Center, are available to provide training to groups and respond to individual questions about the ADA’s employment provisions.
Many workers with disabilities are eligible for supports from state vocational rehabilitation agencies and other organizations. Services and supports that benefit both employees and employers may include tax incentives, workplace accessibility assessments, provision of equipment or assistive technologies, training, or job coaching services. Some workers are eligible for additional assistance based on age (youth or older workers) or veteran status.
Moving Forward: What You Can Do
Get involved with initiatives like Disability Mentoring Day, NDEAM, and the Campaign for Disability Employment. Employers, educators, individuals with disabilities, family members and friends, advocates, labor unions, government agencies, and private organizations all have a role to play. There are many ways you can support and participate in these initiatives, or others in your local community. Visit these organizations to get ideas and get started. Learn about, recognize, support, and celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities.
President George H.W. Bush, when he signed the ADA into law in 1990, praised the “true coalition” that collaborated to craft the legislation. He called on all Americans to continue working together to realize its potential, and reminded us that rights come with responsibilities:
The ADA is a dramatic renewal not only for those with disabilities but for all of us, because along with the precious privilege of being an American comes a sacred duty to ensure that every other American's rights are also guaranteed.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor