By Laura Walling, Senior Director of Government Relations, Goodwill Industries International
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), an annual opportunity to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and educate about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. This year’s theme — “Increasing Access and Opportunity” — is especially important as the nation’s economy begins to recover from a global pandemic, which caused unique challenges for people with disabilities. The theme also aligns with Goodwill’s defining mission of providing all workers, including those with disabilities, with job placement and training services.
We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to thrive.
Dating back to 1945 when Congress established a week of recognition for workers with physical disabilities, NDEAM marks its 75th anniversary this year. 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. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).
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 significantly from 33.7 percent in September 2019 to only 20.3 percent in September 2020, and the unemployment rate for people with disabilities continues to be nearly double over that for those without disabilities. More needs to be done to help ensure people with disabilities are welcomed into the workforce.
It is not only the responsibility of the government to advance policies that create more opportunities for people with disabilities and employers to foster an inclusive environment, but 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.
ODEP funds an Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) on Disability Inclusion, 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].
Goodwill committed to providing support for job seekers, regardless of ability or circumstance, since its founding 118 years ago. Goodwill is proud to support people with disabilities year-round. During the month of October, we ask that you join us in celebrating the contributions of American workers with disabilities — past, present, and future.