By Laura Walling, GII senior director of government affairs, advocacy & legislative affairs
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), an annual opportunity to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. This year’s theme —”The Right Talent, Right Now” — underscores the essential role that workers with disabilities play in America’s economic success, especially in an era when historically low unemployment and global competition are creating a high demand for skilled talent. The theme also aligns with Goodwill’s defining mission of providing all workers, including those with disabilities, with job placement and training services.
The origin of NDEAM dates back to 1945 when Congress established a week of recognition for workers with physical disabilities. The period was expanded to a full month in 1988 and now spotlights the employment needs and contributions of workers with all types of disabilities. NDEAM is overseen by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.
NDEAM is a time for celebration, but it is also a time for action. The labor force participation rate (the percentage of people who are working or actively seeking work) for people with disabilities dropped 1.4% from 34.1% in September 2018 to 33.7% in September 2019. Workers with disabilities represent only 3.2% of total worker in the U.S. More needs to be done to help ensure people with disabilities are welcomed into the workforce.
The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) funds an Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN), which offers a Primer on Disability Inclusion. This tool will help employers take the initial steps needed to foster a disability-inclusive culture. In addition to basics and background, this resource outlines key strategies employers can take across seven operational areas based on an employer framework called [email protected].
It is not only the responsibility of government to advance policies that create more opportunities for people with disabilities and employers to foster an inclusive environment – workers have a role to play as well. One of the most critical roles to play is as an advocate for people with disabilities. ODEP’s Campaign for Disability Employment offers a variety of resources to help, including videos and discussion guides to assist employees in sparking conversations with their employers and peers.
Goodwill has a 117-year history of commitment to providing support for job seekers, regardless of ability or circumstance. Goodwill is proud to support people with disabilities year-round, but during the month of October, join us in celebrating the contributions of American workers with disabilities — past, present and future.
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