Something we have in common with most of those around us is a desire to work. Whether it’s motivated by aspirations for success, to provide for a family, or to gain independence, the need for meaningful employment is something most of us share. However, certain members of society face greater difficulties in their career lives than others. In light of this fact, in October we observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). NDEAM’s purpose is to celebrate the contributions people with disabilities make to the workforce. Additionally, it aims to increase awareness of inclusive employment practices, and to acknowledge the importance of access to fulfilling jobs.
First declared by the US Congress in 1988, NDEAM is lead by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The mission of the ODEP is to develop and influence policies and practices that increase the number and quality of employment opportunities for people with disabilities. With over one in ten Americans registered as having some form of disability,1 ODEP’s mission applies to a huge portion of the population.
Disability in the Workplace
People with disabilities face unique challenges and obstacles in their work lives. They are disproportionately unemployed compared to the general population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019, only 19.1% of people with disabilities are officially employed, compared to around 60% of the general population.2 This unemployment isn’t voluntary—Two thirds of unemployed people with disabilities say that they want to work.3 So why do they have a more difficult time finding work than the rest of the population? There are a few reasons why.
The most common barrier people with disabilities face comes in the form of assumptions made about what they are and aren’t capable of doing. These assumptions aren’t merely harmful—they’re often flat out wrong. For example, many assume that people with intellectual impairments are unable to perform jobs as well as fully-abled people. But here’s the truth; In the right positions, intellectually disabled employees can actually make better employees. For example, Pizza Hut’s disabled employees have a turnover rate of only 20% compared to a 150% turnover rate for non-disabled employees.4 Employees with disabilities have saved the company in recruiting and training costs, while being performant and reliable workers.
Another barrier for entry into the workforce is the belief that modifications are difficult and expensive. Often, employers think that they will have to make extreme changes to their infrastructure or production methods to accommodate disabled employees. But research from the shows that 59% of accommodations cost nothing, and the rest typically cost less than $500 dollars. Furthermore, 73% of employers reported that their workers with disabilities required no accommodation whatsoever.5
Ways to get Involved in National Disability Employment Awareness Month
As employers, coworkers, and citizens, what can we do to advance the cause of people with disability in the workplace? The most important thing we can do is curb the judgements and assumptions we make about the needs and abilities of those with disabilities. When we put aside presumptions, we can more clearly see the true value that someone can offer as an employee. It’s okay to ask people what tools and modifications they need to help them perform their best. Providing accommodations is often easy, free, and results in better employee retention and satisfaction.
You can take part in National Disability Employment Awareness Month in a few easy ways. Encourage your employer to put in place a disability inclusion program in their hiring practices. If you are living with a disability, share your story to spread awareness and encourage others. The Office of Disability Employment Policy has a free poster that you can download to hang in your place of work. You can even use the Twitter hashtag #NDEAM in your social media posts! Your participation can help promote education and awareness of disability employment issues. Join the movement today!
For more ideas on how to participate in National Disability Employment Awareness Month, go to https://www.whatcanyoudocampaign.org/celebrate-ndeam/.