October is the 75th National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In 1945, Congress declared that the first week in October would be celebrated as "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1962, according to the Social Security Administration, the word "physically" was removed from the title. In 1988, Congress declared the entire month of October would be used to celebrate the newly-renamed National Disability Employment Awareness Month, or NDEAM.
One of the most important steps any business can take to create a culture of acceptance and accessibility in the workplace is to celebrate the differences that make employees unique. Celebrating individuals and their unique abilities can help create a diverse workforce that provides opportunities for all employees.
Having a willingness to celebrate individuals is an incredibly positive position; however, creating actionable steps can seem challenging. Despite this, many major companies and corporations in the United States have taken steps to ensure that individuals within the company are celebrated for their abilities, not judged for their disabilities. According to Disability:IN, here are some things that a few major corporations are doing to celebrate NDEAM.
- Boeing: Hosting Disability-Awareness Fairs where organizations like Special Olympics can give presentations and provide information to both employers and employees about resources for individuals with disabilities.
- Dell: Dine in the Dark experience to allow employees to gain understanding of the challenges faced by some co-workers. Plus, hosting viewing sessions of "A Day in the Life," a video by Whitney Bailey, an advocate for accessibility, particularly relating to the challenges of physical disabilities.
- Pratt & Whitney: Kicking off a campaign called "Faces of Ability" that will highlight employees that have disabilities telling their own stories to help raise awareness of the challenges that individuals can face in the workplace, as well as the successes that these employees have had.
- Walmart: Hosting a Dine in the Dark event to promote awareness of bias related to disability. Plus, creating a storytelling campaign called "My Disability. My Story.," where employees with disabilities will be able to share their challenges and successes.
These are just a few of the major companies in the Unites States that are working to bridge the employment gap that exists between individuals with disabilities, and those without. However, for many businesses across the country, the budget does not exist to create massive campaigns nor host sensory events like Dine in the Dark. What then, can be done, in a reasonable amount of time, for a reasonable budget?
The following actionable tips have been assembled by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the Social Security Administration:
- Review company policies: There is no better time than NDEAM to review company policies to ensure that a focus on accessibility is present. If policies are old and outdated, use NDEAM to begin rewriting policy so that moving into the new year, a focus on diversity, inclusion, and accessibility will enable all employees to produce their best work. Consider writing policies that, from the ground up, encompass all current and potential employees so that regardless of the challenges an employee might face, the company is ready to provide whatever accommodations are required for 100% accessibility.
- Train supervisors: Since supervisors will deal with employees on the most regular basis, it is important that they understand their role as creating accessibility for all employees. It is important, too, that supervisors be trained to assign tasks that are best suited to the strengths of individuals so that all employees may function at their highest levels. Further, supervisors need to be taught the value of inclusive, diverse workspaces so that they can demonstrate to employees precisely how to behave in inclusive, diverse situations.
- Train employees: Provide employees with educational opportunities that will allow them to better understand the unique challenges faced by other employees (or clients) with disabilities. Ensure that the training is practical and straightforward, and above all else, interesting, otherwise employees may not invest themselves in the training or benefit from it. For a list of excellent training topics and proper etiquette, visit the Job Accommodation Network.
- Participate in Disability Mentoring Day programs: The third Wednesday of October is set aside as part of the NDEAM to be the Disability Mentoring Day. On this day, companies can provide specific, on-the-job style training for individuals with disabilities, as well as host job shadowing and mentoring programs. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) has useful information for creating a Mentoring Day program. Creating mentoring programs can provide new opportunities for individuals with disabilities and can create a positive reputation for the company.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2019, only 19.3% of individuals with disabilities were employed, compared to 66.3% employment for individuals without disabilities. Although there are many factors to which this gap can be attributed, accessibility (or lack thereof) at workplaces is a significant one.
Another major factor is pay. According to the Census Bureau individuals with disabilities earn approximately 66 cents for every dollar made by an individual without a disability. When companies create positions that closely align with the skills and abilities of an individual, that individual will be able to be a valued, and valuable, employee. This individual will help make a company profitable and deserves to be equally compensated with all other employees. When individuals are fairly compensated for their work, and the company profits, an example will be set for other companies that shows how important it is to hire individuals with a wide range of skills, abilities, and interests. In turn, more companies will create more employee-centered positions, and the wage gap between individuals with disabilities and those without will begin to decrease.
As the United States celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2020, it is important for employers everywhere to examine the culture of their business and examine old practices and policies. NDEAM 2020 is an opportunity for a business to reinvent itself and become more cognizant of the ways in which become more accessible, diverse, and inclusive. A business taking such steps will generate new revenue streams as its reputation grows. During NDEAM 2020, it is important to reflect on the values of accessibility, diversity, and inclusivity which are central to the celebration, and promotion, of individuals with disabilities.