National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2014

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month! This year’s theme is “Expect. Employ. Empower.”

Every October, NDEAM aims to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

According to the U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy, NDEAM’s roots go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.”

As an untapped and under-utilized resource in the U.S. labor market, individuals with disabilities are far more likely to be unemployed than their able-bodied counterparts. Spreading awareness, however, can help a job seeker with disabilities beat challenging odds.

It has been more than 20 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was supposed to open doors for individuals with disabilities on the job front, but the statistics are concerning: During 2011, only 20.7% of the individuals with disabilities that were 21 to 64 years old were employed full-time.

For a parent of a child with disabilities, such data doesn’t inspire hope for their child’s future. For a person with disabilities, the numbers can be downright demoralizing. Individuals with disabilities have the same goals as everyone else – they want to work, pursue careers, have families, own homes, and have successful lives. They want to forge their own path; most individuals with disabilities see public assistance as something that should be supplementary, or an option that should be pursued only if a person’s disability precludes them from pursuing work.

What are the solutions?

In addition to access to job training programs and changing employer perception, here are some points that hiring companies should heed in terms of disability in the workplace. They include:

  • Employers should specifically seek out individuals with disabilities
  • Interviewers should make sure they do not directly inquire about a candidate’s disability
  • Managers should be willing to comply with reasonable accommodation requests
  • All persons should understand ADA-mandated rules and how they relate to job functions
  • No one should ever assume that an individual with a disability is not employable
  • Employers should not assume that some jobs should be off limits to individuals with disabilities, or that other positions are suited for a person with disabilities
  • Employers should not assume that its insurance costs will increase because a staff member has a disability
  • Business owners should not assume a facility is accessible unless a profession has told them it is

Further Reading

For more information about employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities: