National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), celebrated in October, is an annual recognition of the work employees with disabilities do and the value they bring to their colleagues and organizations. This fall, amidst one of the most challenging situations our country has faced, NDEAM serves as a reminder to employers across all industries of the importance of providing accessible and inclusive workplaces for all.
2020 is an important year for Americans with disabilities. In addition to being the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it marks the 75th anniversary of NDEAM. In 1945, as thousands of wounded American soldiers returned from World War II and re-entered the workforce, Congress passed Public Law 176 and declared the first week of October national Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. The goal was to educate the public about hiring people with physical disabilities and build bridges toward full employment. In 1962, the name was broadened to include people with all types of disabilities, and 26 years later, the week was expanded to what we now know as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Despite these efforts, many people with disabilities, including countless veterans, face barriers to employment: those with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as their non-disabled peers. Among working-age people who are blind, nearly 70% are not employed.
This year’s NDEAM theme is “Increasing Access and Opportunity.” How do ideas of access and opportunity translate into actionable organizational behavior? For one, companies can invest in a work environment that accommodates people who are blind or have other disabilities. Accessibility is built-in to much of today’s technology, and other accommodations can usually be made at minimal cost – less than $500 according to the Job Accommodation Network, a source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues funded by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. NIB is also a resource that employers can tap into to help make their workplaces more accessible.
Second, managers play a huge role in the success of all employees. Organizations need to proactively educate managers on how to onboard, support, and manage employees with disabilities and provide career development opportunities just as they do for employees without disabilities.
Finally, leaders and organizations must recognize and appreciate the power they have to level the playing field and make a positive difference in the lives of people who only need fair chance to be competitive in the job market.
NDEAM recognizes the important contributions of people with disabilities and the tremendous positive impact they have on organizations. This year, organizations can amplify that message by committing to learn more about how easy it is to employ people with disabilities and making a conscious effort to include them in their workforces.