By Greg Davis
Every October the nation observes National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This effort to celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities began in 1945 when Congress set aside the first week in October as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Later, in 1962, Congress removed the word “physically” to include all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week-long observance to the entire month of October, thereby establishing National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
This year, in recognition of NDEAM, the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (DOL ODEP) declared their NDEAM 2022 theme as “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation” in honor of the vital role those with disabilities play in making the nation’s workforce diverse and inclusive. There is a growing acknowledgment that employees with disabilities can bring skills and perspectives, such as adaptability and creative problem-solving strategies, that can benefit any employer or business.
Efforts like NDEAM have helped raise the awareness among public and private employers that in today’s workplace it has never been more important to include everyone. However, there is still room for improvement. According to the ODEP, in August 2022, the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities was 22.5%, compared to 68% for people without disabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 7.7%, compared to 3.6% for people with disabilities.
In an effort to offer even more employment opportunities to those with disabilities, DOL ODEP supports several initiatives that assist employers interested in hiring individuals with disabilities, including:
- The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) – This is a free, nationwide service that educates employers about effective strategies for hiring and advancing people with disabilities. Among several of their areas of focus, EARN offers a Neurodiversity in the Workplace toolkit which helps employers attract and benefit from workers with neurodiversity (i.e., autism, dyslexia, post-traumatic stress, etc.) who offer their own unique skill set in the workplace.
- The Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) – This is a free resource, managed by ODEP and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Diversity Management Operations Center (DMOC), that connects private businesses and federal agencies nationwide with qualified job candidates for temporary or permanent positions in a variety of fields.
- The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) – This network provides free, expert advice on workplace accommodations that may be necessary to assist qualified individuals with disabilities so that they can apply for a job and maximize their productivity once on board.
ODEP also offers several fact sheets and other resources about effective recruitment and hiring strategies and applicable laws, such as Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You can also learn more about the employment provisions of the ADA under Title I on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s webpage.
In addition to ODEP’s resources outlined above, you may also want to listen to the National Veterans’ Training Institute’s (NVTI) podcast, Episode 13: Supporting Veterans with Accessibility Needs and consider enrolling in NVTI’s course, 9610/DAVS: Career Coaching for Special Populations: Supporting Veterans with Disabilities and Accessibility Needs and Serving Veteran Spouses. Visit NVTI.org to learn more and access these resources.
By learning more about these services and resources, you can help support the effort to increase employment opportunities for those with disabilities. At this time, when employers are facing an unprecedented labor shortage, hiring workers with disabilities can help provide a solution to this circumstance for organizations of all sizes while also providing unique strengths and capabilities to the job.