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Recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month

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On September 30, 2013, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation declaring October 2013 as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  In his proclamation, the President urged employers and those in hiring positions to seek out individuals with disabilities to participate in our workforce and contribute their unique gifts and talents to our society.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy’s website, as of September 2013, only 20.9% of people with disabilities in America were active participants in the American labor force; those without disabilities made up 68.8% of the labor force.  The overall unemployment rate in America for September 2013 was 6.8%; the unemployment rate of people with disabilities, however, was 13.1%.  With people with disabilities making up such a small percentage of the workforce and yet a very high percentage of unemployment when compared to their able-bodied counterparts, this puts the population at an incredible disadvantage socially, financially, educationally, mentally, and hinders their ability to become independent members in society.

The observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month shines a spotlight on the struggles people with disabilities endure in their journey to being viewed as desirable employing candidates.  There are many myths that hiring personnel and corporations have about hiring those with disabilities.  Some of these myths are:  the accommodations that a person may require will be too costly to afford; fear that people with disabilities may not perform near or at the same levels as their able-bodied peers; people with disabilities do not have the required educational backgrounds and skill sets needed for the positions that are available; and people with disabilities do not desire to work.  All of these myths are erroneous, yet they pervade the minds of hiring professionals who, either intentionally or unintentionally, doubt the potential of aspiring employable candidates who are disabled.

There are several organizations that exist to debunk the myths about hiring those with disabilities, and provide these employable individuals with a platform to showcase their skills and abilities.  One prominent campaign is the What Can You Do? campaign, an initiative that seeks to boost the employability of those with disabilities by encouraging organizations to recognize the many talents and values those within this group possesses, and the gains (especially financial) their organizations could reap by hiring these individuals.  Another newcomer in pushing the employability of people with disabilities to the forefront is Out of Step, an online marketplace connecting people with disabilities to potential employers and customers.  Out of Step allows people with disabilities to create profiles where they can list the skills, services, and knowledge they have that could prove useful to those who are in need of such resources.  (Yours truly has created a profile on Out of Step, and is currently featured as a recommended profile on the website.)

DiversityInc has created two downloadable files that discusses the history of the disability employment observance, which began in 1945 by Congress, and was held for only a week.  During that time, it was called “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.”  In 1962, the observance was renamed to include individuals of all different abilities, not just those with physical limitations.  By 1988, the name of the observance was changed to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” and was expanded to a full month.  Educating society about the historical account of the observance, along with the statistics of employability among people with disabilities is imperative in knowing where we as a society have been successful in providing employment opportunities to those with disabilities, and where the remaining gaps are still prevalent.

To organizations and hiring personnel:  Do your organization purposefully seek out employable individuals who are disabled?  If so, how and why did your company make this a priority?  If your company has not made it a priority to hire those within this group, what reasoning, myths, and/or stereotypes do your agency/company hold true in your inaction or reluctance?  What are the potential losses your organization may be enduring by not taking advantage of the skills and abilities of those within this population?  Can your company or organization afford to be behind the curve in comparison to organizations that purposefully seek those with disabilities?

If anyone is willing to answer any of the following questions, please contact me via email, Vilissa@rampyourvoice.com.  I would love to hear why or why not your company has made hiring those with disabilities a priority.  

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Pixabay.)

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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