Every month, there are hundreds of national and international celebrations dedicated to raising awareness and support for meaningful causes. In October, there are several reasons and causes to celebrate. The first one you probably think of is Halloween! Understandable, who doesn’t love all the costumes and candy! However, October is not all about candy. October is also the month Americans observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) by paying tribute to the accomplishments of the men and women with disabilities whose work helps keep the nation’s economy strong.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities, past and present. NDEAM showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices that benefit employers and employees. The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has chosen "Advancing Access and Equity" as the theme for NDEAM 2023. This year, we also mark the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act), the first federal law to address civil rights and equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Today, workers with disabilities have more employment opportunities than ever before and Restoring Hopes WORKS Employment Services wants to bring awareness to the significant events that have allowed individuals the opportunity to achieve their incredible accomplishments.
Since the mid-1900s, people with disabilities have advocated for the recognition of disability as an aspect of identity that influences the experiences of an individual, not as the sole defining feature of a person. In the 1970s, disability rights activists lobbied Congress and marched on Washington to include civil rights for people with disabilities in the 1972 Rehabilitation Act. In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act was passed, and for the first time in history, civil rights of people with disabilities were protected by law and this has provided employment opportunities that they once didn’t have.
Have you ever thought about what the benefits of working are? Most people’s first response is “money”, and by advancing access and equity there is an increasing number of employers with opportunities to hire workers with disabilities into competitive, integrated employment. Competitive integrated employment means that workers with disabilities are compensated at or above minimum wage and receive comparable pay to employees without disabilities performing similar duties and with similar training and experience. Whether that work is full-time or part-time the wage is the same.
There are many more benefits beyond income and wages. Working a job can provide you with a sense of identity, sense of meaning and purpose, access to your community and connection to other people. Although this might not be the first benefit we think of, having a job gives you a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. When you do your job, it will feel like you are fulfilling a purpose, and it does affect someone else’s life, be it in a small or big way. The Rehabilitation Act allowed these benefits of working to be accessible and NDEAM spreads awareness so more organizations and employers can become involved ultimately creating more opportunities.
The second practice NDEAM supports is that disabled workers receive the same level of benefits provided to other employees without disabilities in similar positions. When defining benefits, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics includes paid leave, supplemental pay, insurance, retirement, and legally required benefits such as Social Security. This practice encourages workplace equity proving fairness to all.
The third practice states, “Workers with disabilities work at a location where they interact with employees with and without disabilities”. And lastly, disabled workers have opportunities for advancement like other employees without disabilities. How I perceive the last practice falls into promoting inclusion in the workplace. This means the workplace is actively practicing or creating an environment in which workers with disabilities receive equal treatment opportunities.
The NDEAM blog states, “This National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we honor the promise of the Rehab Act and the ADA and pledge to deliver on it in a way that is equitable in reach and impact and considers the lived experiences of all workers with disabilities, including those who may also belong to other marginalized groups. Again, it’s about advancing access and equity, for all workers, for the next 50 years and beyond”. While we are celebrating the accomplishments and advancements, we have made in the last 50 years we are thinking of new ways to continue this progress and advance further.
The ideas below are just a few ways employers and their employees can participate, during October and all year long.
Review Policies: NDEAM is an opportune time to review your company's policies to ensure they convey a commitment to an inclusive workplace culture.
Establish an employee resource group: NDEAM is a perfect time to launch a disability Employee Resource Group (ERG). Sometimes referred to as Employee Networks or Affinity Groups, ERGs offer employees an opportunity to connect and receive support from others with similar backgrounds or interests. For more information, see A Toolkit for Establishing and Maintaining Successful Employee Resource Groups. If your company already has a disability ERG, consider using NDEAM to remind employees about it through displays, information tables or other communication channels.
Create a Display: NDEAM is a great time to freshen up bulletin boards in break areas or other locations that employees frequent by posting positive messages about your company's commitment to a disability-inclusive workforce. Start by putting up this year's NDEAM poster, available in English and Spanish. Additional display materials include the "What Can YOU Do?" poster series.
Train Supervisors: Supervisors are the individuals closest to an organization's workforce. As part of NDEAM, consider conducting training to ensure they understand their role in fostering an inclusive workplace culture. Training may include a review of relevant policies, including the process for providing reasonable accommodation. One easy way to provide such training is to make use of available "turnkey" training modules and available materials, such as the Building an Inclusive Workforce tabletop desk guide.
Educate Employees: Companies must commit to disability inclusion effectively and regularly reinforce that commitment to employees. NDEAM offers an opportunity to do this through disability training or informal educational events such as brown-bag lunch discussions. Several ready-to-use resources can assist in facilitating such activities, such as disability etiquette materials and the "I Can" public service announcement and accompanying workplace discussion guide. Another option is to contact local disability organizations to see if they offer workplace training programs.
If you would like to read additional inspiration and ways you can celebrate NDEAM, check out these additional resources: