It’s been 31 years since the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed by the U.S. Congress. While much has changed in those years—such as making it unlawful to discriminate against any individual with disabilities in “public life,” which includes schools, jobs, transportation, communications and public spaces—not enough has been done to keep this important issue in the workplaces. After all, not all disabilities can be seen.
On Sept. 30, 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order for October to be proclaimed as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). In his proclamation, Biden talks about celebrating the work of employees, colleagues and clients who have disabilities and recommitting ourselves to taking down barriers—physical and psychological—that affect inclusion in the virtual or physical workplace.
Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on 2020 data, “17.9 percent of persons with a disability were employed, down from 19.3 percent in 2019.”
And of those able to secure part-time work, “29 percent of workers with a disability were employed, compared with 16 percent for those with no disability.” Why part-time employment? “Because their hours had been reduced or because they were not able to find a full-time job.”
President Biden recognizes the need to “advance diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility to bolster career paths and promote economic stability for Americans with disabilities.” So how can we all contribute to NDEAM’s 2021 theme of “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion”?
Foster the NDEAM Dream
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, which includes the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), NDEAM’s “true spirit lies in the many observances held at the grassroots level across the nation every year. The Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE) encourages organizations of all sizes and in all industries to participate.”
On the surface, it might seem odd to “celebrate” disabilities but overturning that way of thinking is what National Disability Employment Awareness Month is all about. There are so many contributions of workers with disabilities to America’s greatness and it is time we educate ourselves on how to promote workers’ strengths and abilities throughout the year.
Below are some general ideas from the NDEAM website for employers to utilize.
Inclusivity in Workplaces
Ideally, employers listen to their employees and make them feel included in the workplace. Taking the concept of the melting pot on the American scale down to the business level, diversity and inclusion makes for a more understanding and less-stressful environment for employees, as well as a place that champions different and, sometimes, entrepreneurial ideas.
Here are some of ODEP’s initiatives to get employers thinking about the future of the American worker who has disabilities:
Review your diversity, equity and inclusion policies.
“NDEAM is an opportune time to review your company's policies to ensure they convey a commitment to an inclusive workplace culture.”
Build deeper employee connections.
“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 [PDF].”
Create an informational display that is inclusive.
“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.”
Train your management teams.
Ensure your directors and managers “understand their roles in fostering an inclusive workplace culture in your organization.”
Educate employees, too.
“Reinforce your commitment to disability inclusion through disability training or informal educational events such as brown-bag lunch discussions.”
Recognize contributions from workers with disabilities.
Publish articles that address “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.”
Celebrate 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. [In 2021, it is October 20.]”
Empowering Others at UC Berkeley
According to UC Berkeley’s Disabled Students’ Program (DSP) annual report, “DSP has experienced unprecedented growth in the number of students registering for DSP services over the last five years. We have experienced a student increase of 86% from 2015 to 2020 and our DSP student population has nearly doubled in size.”
Moreover, the university’s DSP serves “approximately 12 percent of the UC Berkeley student population.” UC Berkeley is not unique in this statistic; 10 to 15 percent of a college population needing disabled students’ services is the national average. These students will go on to join the workforce. What can you do now to help recognize their contributions?
Here are some campus suggestions for learning more about National Disability Employment Awareness Month:
Find campus chats, talks, workshops and events: A screen-reader calendar in long-form has a listing of all the DEHEM events.
Search Twitter for events using #DisabledInHigherEd.
Celebrate disability with disabled student features, stories, information and events on the Diversity webpage.
Learn about Senator Maria Durazo’s SB 639, which is co-sponsored by Disability Rights California and will phase out subminimum wage employment for disabled Californians.
Read about Berkeley alum Dr. Joshua A. Miele, who, blind since age four, won a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.
Looking for more ways to celebrate our and your coworkers and employees who have disabilities? Upcoming NDEAM virtual events can be found on the California Department of Rehabilitation’s website.
Recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is just one small step toward the work that needs to be done for equal civil rights.