October is a historic month dedicated to advancing the employment and inclusion of people with disabilities in the US workforce. Designated by Congress in 1945, this month long campaign highlights the contributions of employees with disabilities while promoting disability awareness and fostering a more inclusive workplace. Each year the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) sets a theme and leads the celebrations and observances held across the nation. Employers of all sizes and industries are encouraged to participate in NDEAM by holding special events to educate all employees about the talents and value of people with disabilities in the workplace, marketplace, and community.
This year’s theme, “Expect. Employ. Empower.” reflects the reality that most people with disabilities have the ability and desire to join the workforce. In the words of Assistant Secretary Kathleen Martinez of ODEP, “We all have a role to play in — and benefit to gain from — increasing opportunities for meaningful employment for people with disabilities. The theme encapsulates this in three powerful words. It conveys that advancing disability employment is about much more than just hiring. It’s about creating a continuum of inclusion. And the first step on this continuum is expectation.”
In recognition of NDEAM, employers might want to initiate some of the following activities:
- Create a NDEAM display and promote positive messages about the company’s commitment to a disability inclusive workforce. Start by putting up this year’s NDEAM poster, which is available in both English and Spanish.
- Feature NDEAM in social media activities including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Organizations are encouraged to include the hashtag #NDEAM. Sample postings and tweets are available to assist in incorporating NDEAM into social media activities.
- Educate employees by reinforcing the company’s commitment to disability inclusion. NDEAM offers an opportunity to do this through disability training or informal educational events with the “I Can” public service announcement and accompanying workplace discussion guide.
- Participate in Disability Mentoring Day which promotes career development for youth with disabilities through hands-on programs, job shadowing and ongoing mentoring. The nationwide observance is the third Wednesday of each October, but companies may choose to host their own events on any day of the month. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) offers information to assist in implementing a Disability Mentoring Day event.
- Review company policies to ensure they convey a commitment to an inclusive workplace. For assistance in doing so, read the “Lead the Way: Inclusive Business Culture” in Business Strategies that Work: A Framework for Disability Inclusion.
- Establish an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for Disability. NDEAM is a perfect time to launch a disability-focused ERG, see A Toolkit for Establishing and Maintaining Successful Employee Resource Groups.
The continuing high unemployment rate and low labor force participation of people with disabilities deprive the nation’s workforce of a valuable source of talent. Competitive advantage requires that companies fully engage all their human capital to ensure the highest level of productivity and that certainly includes the skills and talents of individuals with disabilities. The Employment and Disability Institute (EDI) at Cornell University encourages everyone to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month. For more information on EDI resources, see Employer Practices, Disability Toolkits, and HR Tips.