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October 2023 is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Everyone deserves a fair shot at being able to make a living. However, disabled people may have a more difficult time finding a job. This can have to do both with making accommodations for their work, and possible discrimination by employers.

People with disabilities often have a more difficult time finding a job, and even when they are working, they often have lower wages. These disparities cast a large amount of disabled workers into poverty.

The poverty rate for working-age adults with disabilities is nearly three times higher than that of working-age adults without disabilities. In 2013, the poverty rate for people ages 18 to 59 with work-limiting disabilities was 34.5 percent compared with 12.2 percent for those in the same age group without disabilities.

The intersection of disability and poverty makes it critically important to discuss disability employment, and the barriers that many people with disabilities face in the workplace. The more we can understand and raise awareness about these issues, the closer we will come to creating an equitable society for those with disabilities.

Disability Employment Awareness Month is a great time to educate ourselves about disability in the workplace, and issues that face disabled workers including:

  • Who Qualifies as a Disabled Worker?

  • Facing Discrimination as a Disabled Worker.

  • Finding a New Job, and a New Hope.

  • Learning to Value Diversity.

  • Being an Ally.

When we learn to value diversity in the workplace, we allow all workers, regardless of their ability level, to make a meaningful contribution to their workplace and in society. This can give hope to disabled workers who spend more time than others looking for a job so they can support themselves.

This year's NDEAM theme, “Advancing Access and Equity: Then, Now, and Next,” was chosen to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the first federal legislation to prohibit discrimination and address access and equity for people with disabilities.

Equality in the workplace is important, because it empowers people to be their best, and allows them to provide for their own living. It can be disheartening to be unemployed, and when you have a job where you feel you belong, it can significantly improve your wellbeing.

The Department of Labor provides some tips for employers to advocate for disability employment month:

  • Review policies: NDEAM is an opportune time to review your company's policies to ensure they convey a commitment to an inclusive workplace culture. For assistance in doing so, see Inclusion@Work (in particular the first section, "Lead the Way: Inclusive Business 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. Such training may include a review of relevant policies, including the process for providing reasonable accommodations. One easy way to provide such training is to make use of available "turn-key" training modules and available materials, such as the Building an Inclusive Workforce tabletop desk guide.

  • Educate employees: It is critical that companies committed 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.

  • Publish articles: NDEAM offers timely and fresh content for an employee newsletter or internal website. Articles could address a range of topics, such as general information about the company's commitment to an inclusive workplace, the process for requesting reasonable accommodations, or perhaps recognizing the contributions of employees with disabilities – either in general or on an individual level. Your company's top executive could also issue a message to all employees recognizing NDEAM.

  • Feature NDEAM in social media activities: Likewise, NDEAM provides an interesting hook for social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. For the latter, organizations are encouraged to include the hashtag #NDEAM. Sample key messages are available to assist in incorporating NDEAM into social media activities.

  • Issue an NDEAM press release: Employers can also issue a press release to local media to announce their involvement in NDEAM. To assist, a "fill-in-the-blank" template is available that organizations can quickly customize and pitch to their local media.

  • Participate in Disability Mentoring Day: Disability Mentoring Day promotes career development for youth with disabilities through hands-on programs, job shadowing and ongoing mentoring. The nationwide observance is the third Wednesday of each October, but companies may choose to host their own events on any day of the month (or year for that matter). The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) offers information to assist in implementing a Disability Mentoring Day event.

When employers create an inclusive workplace environment, employees can benefit greatly. This allows people to feel safe in their workplace, and like their contribution matters. This can create a greater sense of self-efficacy and workplace satisfaction. The way an employer treats all employees matters.

Remote work can also help people with disabilities to be able to contribute in a meaningful way. During the pandemic, we discovered that more can be accomplished with remote work than was thought possible. Allowing more people to work remotely in the future can help to level the playing field for those with disabilities.

According to CNBC,

Remote work has also made life easier for many people with disabilities, Town adds. “A lot of employees with disabilities tell us they’ve experienced less stigma in remote environments,” she says. “They can apply for jobs without people doubting their competency the moment they realize that they’re disabled — this remote environment has really leveled the playing field.”

Hopefully, as more options for remote work become available this will assist disabled employees further in their careers. Being disabled doesn't mean that you can't still make a valuable contribution. It is important for everyone to realize this, and to give people with disabilities a fair shot in the workplace.

We all need to do our best to help advocate for everyone to be given a fair chance at success in the workplace, and in life. Being able to work is an important aspect of having a good quality of life and being able to raise yourself out of poverty. We need to make sure that everyone is being given their fair chance.

It is important for all of us to challenge the social stigma against being disabled. Just because someone has a disability, it doesn't make them incompetent or unable to function. They may not be able to do all the same things that you can do, but that doesn't make the inferior. By challenging these beliefs, we level the playing field for people with disabilities, and treat them with respect.

If you or your child has a disability, read more on the blog:

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