by Melissa C. Wilson, R1 EEO Specialist
“My disability is one part of who I am” is the 2015 theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which is celebrated each October. National Disability Employment Awareness Month seeks to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.
The history of National Disability Employment Awareness Month traces back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first major legislative effort to secure an equal playing field for individuals with disabilities. This legislation provided a wide range of services for persons with physical and cognitive disabilities. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. This law guaranteed equal opportunity for people with disabilities in public accommodations, commercial facilities, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
Some people are born with a disability, others develop theirs as a result of an illness or injury, and some people develop theirs as they age. Today, one in five people in the United States has a disability. People with disabilities cross lines of age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. It is a group anyone can become a member of at any time.
For the purpose of federal nondiscrimination laws, the federal government defines a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.
Reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodation also includes adjustments to assure that a qualified individual with a disability has rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for 2014 dropped to 5.9 percent. However, the unemployment rate among people with disabilities was 12.5 percent. Among people with disabilities, 17.1 percent were in the labor force, compared to 64.6 percent of people without disabilities. “The lower ratio among persons with a disability reflects, in part, the older age profile of persons with a disability; older workers, regardless of disability status, are less likely to be employed. However, across all age groups, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than those with no disability.”
Some people may feel uncomfortable around people with disabilities because they are uncertain how to act. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. People with disabilities are entitled to the same courtesies you would extend to anyone, including personal privacy. See: http://www.easterseals.com/explore-resources/facts-about-disability/disability-etiquette.html for further information.
Here are just a few examples of individuals who illustrated “At work, it’s what people can do that matters.” (Note: The information below is copied directly from DEOMI’s PowerPoint Presentation.)
Daniel Inouye was born and raised in Hawaii. In 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat team, made up of soldiers of Japanese ancestry. After losing his right arm in battle in 1945, he was honorably discharged in 1947, earning a Medal of Honor and a Purple Heart, among other awards. He became Hawaii’s first congressman when it became a state in 1959. In 1962, he was first elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served for almost 50 years.
During his distinguished congressional career, he served as a member of the Watergate Committee, chairman of the Iran-Contra Committee and chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He also championed the interests of Hawaii’s people in areas such as education, health care, employment and protection of the state’s natural resources.
Helen Keller overcame the adversity of a childhood illness that left her blind and deaf, to become one of the 20th century’s leading humanitarians. In 1915, she and George Kessler founded the Keller International organization, devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition. She was also a tireless advocate for women’s suffrage. In 1920, she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union.
During her lifetime, Keller received many honors in recognition of her accomplishments, including the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal in 1936, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, and election to the Women’s Hall of Fame in 1965.
Justin Dart Jr.
For over three decades, Justin Dart Jr., known as “the godfather of the disability rights movement,” led the disability rights movement, and was a renowned human rights activist. He received five presidential appointments and numerous honors, including the Hubert Humphrey Award of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Dart was at the lectern on the White House lawn when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990. In 1998, Dart received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
Alan Shepard was the first American in space and the fifth person to walk on the moon. His hard-charging nature made him successful throughout his career. In early 1964, Shepard experienced recurring bouts of disorientation, dizziness, vomiting, and ringing in his ears. Shepard knew something was dangerously wrong. He was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, a disabling medical condition.
A panel of NASA medics pulled Shepard from the flight rotation and grounded him. He chose to stay with NASA, and was reassigned to a desk job. In 1969, Shepard was restored to full flight status. At the age of 47, he was the oldest astronaut in the program when he commanded Apollo 14.
Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. In 1979, Mankiller nearly lost her life in a car accident. She underwent numerous surgeries as a part of a long recovery process. During her rehabilitation, she was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease known as myasthenia gravis.
Throughout her life, she worked to improve the lives of Native Americans by helping them receive better education and health care, and she urged them to preserve and take pride in their traditions. Mankiller was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in New York City in 1994 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.
http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/ (and related subpages. They have an additional poster, both in English and in Spanish, that can be downloaded)
http://www.deomi.org/SpecialObservance/index.cfm (and related subpages, including the ‘Scrabble’ poster and a PPT presentation)