October 16, 2023

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a nationwide campaign that takes place each October and traces back to 1945. The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) wanted to acknowledge the importance of increasing workforce inclusion and so they started with a weeklong focus on people with physical disabilities. The first week of October was declared by Congress as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week”. Then, in 1962, the name changed so to reflect employment and contributions of individuals with all nature of disabilities. Congress changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month, or NDEAM, and expanded the declaration week to a month.

A key message is that there is value through inclusion of those individuals with disabilities, in all perspectives of the workplace. The awareness month is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. Each year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy selects a theme for NDEAM. 2023 honors the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and so this year’s selected theme is “Advancing Access and Equity”.

Employer and employee success stories highlight the value of people with disabilities. Inclusion is key to our success and helps employers access a wider talent pool. Research in 2023 from Harvard Business Review revealed that hiring employees with disabilities gives a competitive advantage in the workforce in four ways:

  1. Disabilities contribute to special abilities that loan distinctive skills to particular jobs. Imagine someone who is detail-oriented, who likes to work with machines – they may be a great asset in a mechanical garage fixing vehicles, or helping test new equipment.
  2. Working with colleagues who need assistance with certain things develops more-cooperative habits and attitudes – the work culture gets a boost in collaboration and productivity.
  3. Customer relationships become more valuable. Research shows that customers value how a product is made and by whom.
  4. Being recognized as socially responsible gives a firm an edge in the competition for capital and talent. Research results showed job-seekers much more like a companies who have accessibility and inclusion in their plans.

Fostering intentional workplace inclusion creates fairness opportunities and equitable workplaces for all employees. Highlights from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2022 data shows the national unemployment average for individuals with disabilities is about two times as high as the rate for persons without a disability. This percentage fell to 7.6% in 2022 by about 2.5 percentage points from 2021. In the workplace and beyond, Advancing Access and Equity removes obstacles to employment that marginalize groups such as Americans with Disabilities.

It’s not over in October! Why celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month, in October (and year-round)? Advancing Access and Equity is helpful to remember all talent pools, and NDEAM is a continual call to action; it is a recommitment to the hard work of advocating for better employment opportunities and outcomes for workers with disabilities.

Learn about workplace tools and accommodations! Understanding and exercising rights under the law is an important step in Advancing Access and Equity. Funded by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the Job Accommodation Network, or JAN for short, provides free, confidential guidance for workplace accommodations. A job accommodation is an adjustment to a job or work environment that makes it possible for an individual with a disability or impairment to perform their job duties. Learning about practical solutions to accommodate for a variety of abilities benefits everyone. NDEAM celebrates the value and contributions individuals with disabilities have in the workforce.

Let’s also take this opportunity to recognizing the importance of ensuring all people have equal opportunity to contribute their skills and talents. Happy NDEAM!!

Resources and spotlights:

2023 leader spotlights – https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/initiatives/ndeam/spotlights

Society for Human Resource Management SHRM – https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/pages/americans-with-disabilities-act.aspx

BLS 2022 data – https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm#:~:text=Unemployment%20The%20unemployment%20rate%20for,for%20those%20without%20a%20disability.

Harvard Business Review – https://hbr.org/2023/07/disability-as-a-source-of-competitive-advantage#:~:text=Our%20research%20suggests%20that%20having,culture%20of%20the%20entire%20organization%2C

ODEP – https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep

JAN – https://askjan.org/