National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2020: Increasing Access and Opportunity.
By: Elizabeth Lee
Seventy-five years ago, in response to the large number of service members with disabilities returning home from World War II, Congress passed a law establishing the first week in October of each year as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Over the years, this week-long national observance has undergone several changes in name, focus and duration: In 1962, the name was changed to “National Employ the Handicapped Week” to embrace the entire disability community. And then in 1988, the week-long national observance became the month-long event that we know and celebrate today - “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” (NDEAM). This year marks the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Since 1945, many great strides have been made to further advance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law to prohibit discrimination; amendments were made to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to ensure that eligible individuals receive greater choice and control in their vocational rehabilitation; the Telecommunications Act was passed to guarantee the accessibility and usability of telecommunications equipment; and the Social Security Administration launched the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency program to improve employment services. But despite these and other great strides, there is still far more work that needs to be done.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary, in 2019:
- The employment-population ratio for people with disabilities between ages 16 and 64 was 30.9% (compared to the 74.6% of the ratio for people without disabilities);
- The employment-population ratios were much lower for people with disabilities than for those without across all age groups; and
- Unemployment rates for people with disabilities were higher than those for people without disabilities across all educational attainment groups.
2020 marks not only the 75th observance of NDEAM, but also the 30th anniversary of the ADA. The purpose of NDEAM is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities. The purpose of the ADA is to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in the areas of public life, including employment. As we commemorate these historic milestones, let us use the NDEAM and ADA to celebrate the many contributions people with disabilities bring to the workforce, as well as to remind us that the work of closing the employment gap between persons with and without disabilities is far from over.
This year, both the NDEAM and ADA are centered on the theme, "Increasing Access and Opportunity." To commemorate these events, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) outlined a range of activities employers and employees can do to increase access and opportunities for people with disabilities, many of which have already been and continue to be incorporated into New Editions’ operations. Here are just a few examples:
- Review company policies - ensure that company policies convey a commitment to workplace culture inclusive of people with disabilities.
New Editions takes great pride in hiring, retaining and advancing employees with disabilities, which is why The National Organization on Disability (NOD) recognized New Editions as a 2019 NOD Leading Disability Employer™.
- Train supervisors - conduct trainings for supervisors to ensure they understand their role in fostering an inclusive workplace culture.
Whether an employee needs assistive technology, a more accessible work environment, a flexible work schedule, or all of the above, managers at New Editions make it a priority to provide the employee with the reasonable accommodations they need to feel and be included in the workplace.
- Educate employees - reinforce a commitment to an inclusive workplace through disability training or informal educational events such as brown-bag lunch discussions.
In addition to providing Disability Etiquette Training once a year, New Editions regularly offers EAT Sessions which focus on enhancing employees’ work skills, broadening their understanding of specific topics, or improving their overall well-being.
- Get tech savvy - learn or refresh their knowledge about the importance of accessible technology to the employment of people with disabilities.
New Editions also offers Accessibility Workshops-sessions wherein you can learn how to effectively create and disseminate accessible documents and other forms of communication. It is no wonder that New Editions Consulting, Inc. was recognized as a 2020 Top Workplace by the Washington Post!
As declared in a statement provided by the Multi-Agency Task Force (MATF) on Increasing Employment Opportunities for Americans with Disabilities, “This year, it is more important than ever to bring attention to many contributions of workers with disabilities. As our nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that we continue to improve access to the supports and opportunities that will increase the participation of workers with disabilities in our nation’s workforce.”
“People with disabilities are experienced problem solvers with a proven ability to adapt,” said Office of Disability Employment Policy Deputy Assistant Secretary, Jennifer Sheehy. “Now more than ever, flexibility is important for both workers and employers. National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the ingenuity people with disabilities bring to America’s workplaces.”
We hope you will join us as New Editions celebrates the 75th anniversary of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Let the celebrations continue on throughout the remainder of October and all year long!