Why National Disability Employment Awareness Month Matters
National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) was established to celebrate those with disabilities and their accomplishments in the workplace. Every year, people all over the U.S. commemorate workers with disabilities in the past and present to spread awareness in hopes to show the diverse network of employees and their abilities. In participation of this, we wanted to highlight and discuss a few key points that signify the importance of disability inclusion within the workforce.
On June 25th, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in the Federal workforce. The addition of Accessibility was especially welcomed since it not only highlighted the inclusion of those with disabilities but was also willing to make accommodations so that employees with disabilities will be able to serve to their fullest potential. Through this order, the President encouraged the Federal Workforce, the largest employer in the nation, to be the prime example of equal opportunity and equal access. The order defines accessibility as “design, construction, development, and maintenance of facilities, information and communication technology, programs, and services so that all people, including people with disabilities, can fully and independently use them. Accessibility includes the provision of accommodations and modifications to ensure equal access to employment and participation in activities for people with disabilities, the reduction or elimination of physical and attitudinal barriers to equitable opportunities, a commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities can independently access every outward-facing and internal activity or electronic space, and the pursuit of best practices such as universal design.”
Before the 90’s, job opportunities for people with disabilities were very low if nonexistent. Thanks to the American Disabilities Act (ADA) being passed in 1990 and the advocations for equal rights of a person with a disability, there has been a significant change compared to previous years. According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed in 2021. That is a slight contrast to 2020 which was at 17.9 percent. Although progress has been made toward this change, the numbers are still low.
There are many reasons that affect these low statistics. One major factor is that many places of employment don’t have the necessary means of accessibility and accommodation. According to a blog from Crownpeak, just last January, 1,108 lawsuits were filed. With determination and awareness, those numbers have slowed down in 2022.
Finding employment in disability-friendly environments wasn’t always easily accessible but over the years, many companies have taken a stance. We found that places such as Walgreens, United Airlines, Google, Salesforce, and 3M have a common initiative for persons with disabilities in the workplace. According to a blog by 101 Mobility, the top six companies that hire persons with disabilities is IBM Corporation, Proctor 7 Gamble, Ernst & Young, Cisco Systems, S.C. Johnson, and Sodexo. These companies offer trainings and opportunities, making inclusion of all abilities a high priority.
A very special organization on a global mission to eradicate disability exclusion, is The Valuable 500. The Valuable 500 is a “global collective of 500 CEOs and their companies, innovating together for disability inclusion.” A few of those corporations such as Apple, Sony, and TikTok have made commitments and statements to ensure that people who have disabilities get equal opportunities like anybody else. Caroline Casey, Founder & Creator of The Valuable 500, has revolutionized the world by advocating and presenting change to the workplace, “Businesses cannot be truly inclusive if disability is continuously ignored on leadership agendas.” She has gone over and beyond to inspire and advocate to professionals the necessity of equal opportunity and accessibility within their respected workplace.
There are many reasons why a person with a disability should be considered for equal job opportunities. Here are a few:
- They have every single right as someone who is able-bodied.
Who’s to say that someone living with a disability doesn’t have a unique outlook on a specific work project. The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t go without notice.
2. Their disability doesn’t define who they are.
Again, this goes without saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Preconceived notions, stereotypes, and assumptions are only that. Labeling someone before getting to know their character hinders the process of an amazing, potential relationship.
3. It’s illegal not to.
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) protects a person with a disability and their rights. Over the years, lawsuits have been filed due to the fact that companies or entities were not accessibility-friendly – this includes wheelchair ramps, website compliance and provision of interpreters.
4. You might learn something.
People with disabilities bring different perspectives, lived experiences and understanding to their jobs. This adds value to the scope of the work, and ropes in a wider range of clients. It broadens horizons and helps all employees learn something about a different way of life.
The National Disability Institute (NDI) is a pioneer change-maker in providing people with disabilities access to employment, education, skills development and financial services. The Employment resources at NDI are numerous ranging from Small Business resource Hubs, Apprenticeships, resources on Customized Employment and also the American Dream Employment Network which is a consortium of service providers and employers working together to create a path for individuals with disabilities. NDI is also involved in Research and Public Policy advocacy pertaining to financial education of people with disabilities. As an Institution, NDI is committed to bringing “Financial Inclusion for All”. You can find more information on their website: https://www.nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/
A gateway to employment is education, but this is also limited or even diminished in the lives of those with disabilities. Today, there are a few institutions that strive to provide proper learning environments for those with disabilities to ensure their success in their fields of vocation. One such institution is Shepherd’s College located in Union Grove, Wisconsin. Shepherds College is a post-secondary school designed specifically for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. In the three-year program of Shepherd’s College, students will be equipped to reach a certain level of independence through the development of vocational, social, and life skills. The college offers 3 main occupational majors in Culinary Arts, Horticulture and Technology. Shepherds College is accredited by the Council on Occupational Education. It boasts a 70% employment rate after graduation, with some graduates even dreaming of opening their own businesses due to the education and confidence they have gained through the institution.
Another educational institution that provides employment training for persons with disabilities is the University of Oklahoma. The National Center for Disability Education and Training (NCDET) offers training programs to both youth and adults to enhance professional development in their respected disability fields. To find out more about this, please visit https://outreach.ou.edu/training-and-development/ncdet/.
AllAbility Recruiting, a woman-owned recruitment center, is located in Charlotte, North Carolina. Founder and CEO, Anessa Powell, wanted persons with disabilities to have easy resources for job opportunities. One way her company does this is by sharing job openings on the website. To see what current openings there are, visit this link.
Today, in celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we will continue to share the importance of disability inclusion in any circumstance. It is not just a time to educate ourselves on the importance of accessibility in the workplace, but to also celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities currently in the workforce and in the past. This year’s theme for NDEAM is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation” emphasizes the need to cater employment services according to the needs of people with disabilities. As with all matters of access, there is no “blanket solution”. But with inclusion-focused minds and by empowering the voices of leaders with disabilities, workplace equity is not a distant dream.