Disability: Part of the Equity Equation
As the leaves put on a daring display, we are reminded of the innovative spirit built into every cell of nature including ourselves. Innovation is at the forefront of October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities past and present and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices. This year’s NDEAM theme is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation” echoing the spirit of the Americans who raised their voices in order to be heard and achieve advancements in equitable treatment under the law.
NDEAM is firmly rooted in the history and actions of grassroots organizers and advocates that helped expand the workforce and make space for people with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 promoted the nondiscriminatory hiring of workers with disabilities in federal agencies and by federal contractors. Section 504 was the first civil rights protection for people with disabilities, however after four years with no movement to implement the necessary regulations that would define the new law, disability rights activists occupied federal buildings throughout the nation including San Francisco and Washington, D.C. While many of the sit-in demonstrations lasted a few days, the occupation of the Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) building in San Francisco stretched for close to a month. The demonstrators demanded the Carter Administration enact the law and uphold the protections for people with disabilities and their right to work. Choosing the sit-in as a means of protest had multiple levels of significance, including a callback to the civil rights movement a decade earlier. The sit-ins also helped to upend commonly held beliefs about people with disabilities. Judith Heumann, an activist at the San Francisco sit-in, pointed out, "Through the sit-in, we turned ourselves from being oppressed individuals into being empowered people. We demonstrated to the entire nation that disabled people could take control over our own lives and take leadership in the struggle for equality."
NDEAM is an opportunity for individuals, regardless of their role in an organization, to contribute to a more inclusive work environment, whether physical or virtual. Making the work environment more accessible for people with disabilities helps everyone to feel more comfortable and effective during their workday. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides an extensive list of disability etiquette tips for hiring practices through workplace etiquette. As colleagues, some things we can all do to promote an inclusive space include:
- Not making assumptions based on appearance or accessibility aids.
- Asking an individual before providing help. All people whether with disabilities or without deserve respect and the courtesy of consent. Rebekah Taussig shared an excerpt of her experience on how providing socially constructed “kindness” can cause people with disabilities harm in her August 2020 Time magazine article.
- For someone with visual impairments verbally greet and identify yourself, as well as notifying the person when you’re leaving, rather than simply walking away.
- Listen to people with disabilities. Even if we have a disability or have people with disabilities in our lives, everyone’s experiences and needs are different.
- People who are deaf use a variety of ways to communicate, it’s important to pay attention to cues as to whether the person is using sign language, reading lips, writing, or gesturing. It’s OK to say you do not understand. It’s better to find another means to communicate than to pretend to understand.
- These are just a few examples from the list for disability etiquette on the JAN website, which also includes a document on providing appropriate accommodations when presenting and further resources on appropriate disability etiquette.
New Editions, a firm recognized by the National Organization on Disability as a Leading Disability Employer, understands employment is a critical part of meaningful community engagement and inclusion for people with disabilities and our current and past project portfolio reflects our commitment to inclusive employment practices. New Editions developed functional requirements and built the Disability Equality Index (DEI) (www.disabilityequalityindex.org) survey tool system and website. The DEI is a national, transparent benchmarking survey tool that offers Fortune 1000 businesses an opportunity to measure their disability inclusion policies and practices. The system takes input received from participants and provides an objective analysis of how an organization has policies in place to include persons with disabilities as a segment of the organization’s workforce. New Editions supports the Rehabilitation Services Administration by managing the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM). The NCRTM is central clearinghouse for vocational rehabilitation (VR) information for individuals with disabilities.
New Editions has also supported multiple efforts across different federal clients focused on inclusive employment practices and policies. Some examples include:
- 75th Annual NDEAM Observation
- Employment for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilities: Translating Evidence Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic Virtual Symposium
- Employment: A Toolkit for Interagency Collaboration
- Interagency Committee on Disability Research: History and Significance White Paper and Timeline
Andrew Grim, P. D. student. (2015). Sitting-in for disability rights: The Section 504 protests of the 1970s. National Museum of American History. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/sitting-disability-rights-section-5…
Disability: Part of the equity equation. United States Department of Labor. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/initiatives/ndeam
Job Accommodation Network. Disability etiquette. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://askjan.org/topics/disetiq.cfm
Taussig, R., & Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body. (2020). Here's why kindness toward disabled people is complicated. Time. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from https://time.com/5881597/disability-kindness/