Federal Focus: Disability Employment Awareness

In case you were unaware, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, as designated by the Federal Government and recognized by state and local governments.

Yet most savvy employers should already know by now that fostering workplace diversity and inclusion for all simply makes good business sense, especially in the 21st century. The business community ought to be aware every month of the year that disability employment helps boost bottom line productivity, bring diverse viewpoints to the table, and expand a company’s customer base. This is true from Main Street to Wall Street, from small and mid-sized businesses to Corporate America.

Talent is a terrible thing to waste

Employers everywhere should understand that people with disabilities represent a vast pool of untapped talent. First and foremost in today’s global marketplace, human capital resources must be allocated based on individual talent and ability alone. That is, assuming companies want to thrive and remain competitive in an increasingly diverse labor force with increasingly diverse consumers. This is especially important in a struggling economy where talent is a terrible thing for any employer to ignore or waste because of disability discrimination.

It should not matter from whom or where employee talent derives. Ability is what counts most, and it should never be ruled out by employers simply because a person happens to have a physical or mental impairment. Disability does not mean inability.

To the contrary, well qualified employees with disabilities usually work harder, smarter and are more productive and loyal than their co-workers because of the high hurdles they must overcome to secure employment.

Negative attitudes remain prevelant

Discriminatory employment practices are unlawful and have no place in the American workplace. Yet 22 years after passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities are still too often treated as second class citizens.

The fact is that qualified job applicants with disabilities can be found everywhere in every industry nationwide. Employers need to fine tune and adjust their recruitment practices or risk missing out on key talent.

People with disabilities are ready, willing, eager and able to work successfully, all they need is an equal opportunity. Yet negative attitudes toward people with disabilities are still prevelant in too many workplaces. Such attitudes may prevent disabled individuals from having a chance to reach their full potential. Again, the focus should be on one’s ability alone.

As legendary presidential campaign manager James Carville might say: It‘s the ABILITY — stupid!

Bringing unique skill sets to the workplace

According to a July 2012 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, “Current Population Reports: Americans with Disabilities”:

“The population of people with disabilities inhabit a distinct position in the U.S. economy, both for their contributions to the marketplace and roles in government policies and programs.

People with disabilities bring unique sets of skills to the workplace, enhancing the strength and diversity of the U.S. labor market. In addition, they make up a significant market of consumers, representing more than $200 billion in discretionary spending and spurring technological innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Disabilities affect people from all walks of life

The aforementioned Census Bureau study found that, “About 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population — had a disability in 2010…with more than half of them reporting the disability was severe.”

Moreover, people with disabilities are half as likely to have jobs as non-disabled individuals. According to the Census Bureau: “41 percent of those age 21 to 64 with any disability were employed, compared with 79 percent of those with no disability. Along with the lower likelihood of having a job came the higher likelihood of experiencing persistent poverty.”

It’s also important to consider that:

1) Disabilities affect people of every race, color, gender, age and national origin – a huge swath of the U.S. population.

2) Minorities and women with disabilities may face a double dose of discrimination.

3) Most of us are likely to experience a temporary or permanent disability at some point during our lives — whether it’s severe back pain, a broken bone, clinical depression, or a host of neurological impairments.

4) Disability protections extend to both physical and mental impairments. Therefore, just because one’s disability may not be physically recognizable does not mean it is non-existant or unprotected.

According to the online resource Disabled-World.com: “Disabilities affect Americans of all walks of life — from famous Hollywood stars to small town military heroes.” In other words, no one is immune from having a disability. Moreover, despite societal barriers, people with disabilities have proven time and again that they can excel in their field of choice if provided an equal opportunity.

“A strong workforce is an inclusive workforce”

October’s annual observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). This year’s theme is:

“A Strong Workforce is an inclusive workforce: What can YOU do?”

According to DOL/ODEP: “National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. NDEAM’s roots go 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. Upon its establishment in 2001, ODEP assumed responsibility for NDEAM and has worked to expand its reach and scope ever since.”

Leveling the playing field

To reiterate, all employers would be wise to remember that decisions regarding individuals with disabilities must be based on talent, ability and merit — not unfounded biases, myths, fears, and stereotypes.

People with disabilities, like all Americans, deserve equal opportunities to compete and advance on a level playing field — one without discriminatory barriers. Everyone in our great Nation should have the freedom to rise up as high as their God-given talents and abilities will take them, regardless of disability status.

This fundamental principle of equal opportunity for all represents the very essence of the American Dream. This principle is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, which states that all individuals have “unalienable rights” to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — including people with disabilities.

QUESTION: What is your organization doing to boost awareness of disability employment — including recruitment, hiring, training, advancement, and retention?

(Credit: U.S. Library of Congress)

For further information, check out:

Presidential Proclamation

Executive Order 13548

DOL Video

OPM Data

OPM Info

Library of Congress Profiles

News Articles



Disability Resources


* All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.

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Nancy Hinkley

You may also want to check out eFedLink.org, a Community of Practice to Advance Federal Employment for Persons with Disabilities

Rennette Fortune

Thank you for this post. Two of President Obama’s Executive Orders require agencies to hire 100,000 individuals with disabilities by 2015. And even though OPM hasn’t yet implemented training programs, agency still need to work toward fulfilling the EOs’ requirements. The National Disability Employment Awareness Month, is a perfect time for agencies to brainstorm an effective startegy focusing on core areas such as outreach, training, accessibility, and support/work-life to help get on track and accomplish the goals (on time) of the EO’s.

Henry Brown

Interesting drill down to the local level:

from the Houston Tx Library:

Disability Awareness Month

Inclusion treasures diversity and builds community

House Bill 3616 was passed in 2011 designating October as Persons with Disabilities History and Awareness Month in Texas. The bill strives to increase public awareness of the many achievements of people with disabilities; encourage public understanding of the disability rights movement; reaffirm the local, state, and federal commitment to providing equality and inclusion for people with disabilities; and promote respect for and better treatment of people with disabilities in Texas.

David B. Grinberg

U.S. Labor Dept. press release:

“DOL Launches virtual Workplace Flexibility Toolkit during National Disability Employment Awareness Month”

“Funded by the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy in partnership with the department’s Women’s Bureau, the toolkit makes more than 170 resources easily accessible, particularly for workers and job seekers with complex employment situations, such as… individuals with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities and people with HIV/AIDS.

“Workplace flexibility is a universal strategy that promotes an inclusive workforce and levels the playing field for people with disabilities,” said Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. “These resources and unique approach will help all workers with complex employment situations become more productive.”

David B. Grinberg

From DOL/ODEP newsletter 10/12/12

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) Continues Across the Nation
NDEAM’s second week saw a variety of events and observances across the nation, all intended to further this year’s theme of “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?”
Assistant Secretary Martinez Speaks to Federal News Radio
On October 4, 2012, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathy Martinez was interviewed by Federal News Radio about NDEAM and efforts to increase the representation of people with disabilities in the Federal workforce. Listen to the interview
Disability Mentoring Day to Occur October 17th
On October 17, 2012, Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) will take place at schools and workplaces across the country. Sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), DMD is a one-day job shadowing opportunity for students and job seekers with disabilities.

Learn more about Disability Mentoring Day
Upcoming Webinar to Explore How States can Assist Businesses in Employing People with Disabilities
On October 18, 2012, ODEP’s Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) will sponsor a webinar on how states can help businesses hire and retain people with disabilities. The webinar is one in a series being held in celebration of NDEAM and will take place from 2-2:30 EDT.

Register for the webinar

David B. Grinberg

HENRY: Thanks for the interesting info about what’s occurring in Texas. It’s good to know that disability employment awareness is being recognized by one of our nation’s most populous and conservative states.
Moreover, some folks may not remember that it was a Texan, former President George H.W. Bush, who signed the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 on the White House South Lawn. And his son, former President George W. Bush, signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, expanding the scope the ADA. Thus, providing equal opportunities to people with disabilities should not be a partisan issue.

RENNETTE: Thank you for your keen and astute insights. I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head. Executive Orders are one thing, while agency implementation government-wide is another. As you note, time will tell. Stay tuned, as they say.

NANCY: Thanks for the “Like” as well as pointing out another excellent online resource.

David B. Grinberg

The comment below is cross-posted from LinkedIn, AAPD group (members only), with the permission of Gary Karp of Modern Disability. AAPD is the American Association for People with Disabilities. You can check out Gary’s web page here.

Gary writes:

“The fact is that what it means to have a disability today is radically different than ever before in our entire history.Thanks to medical advances, better health, higher mobility in a much more accessible world, access to education, and the empowerment of technologies, this is less and less about disability and very much about seeing the person first as you would any employee. Then it becomes a matter of how this person would perform the essential tasks of the job.

Workers with disabilities are an emerging population, and the most important thing for employers to understand is that these are real people with real abilities and personal goals, who are simply a bona fide part of the labor pool – and vastly untapped.”

– Gary Karp, disability advocate

Julie Chase

The EO of 2010 is useless. I know a young person with a disability who has two degrees and has been applying to the FED since he graduated from college over a year ago. I have known this person since meeting him during the STEP (which was abolished). Due to the positive workplace he experienced, he was happy to receive his BS degree and looked forward to applying and working as a civil servant. Not happening. All Schedule A paperwork was submitted to the local installation EEO. Done….the President’s EO was thought to be a godsend. Not. After doing some research on his behalf, it was discovered that ….there is NO FUNDING to agencies to implement this EO. In DoD, it’s DoA without funding. Also, with the successful lawsuit pushed to eliminate the STEP and SCEP, young folks who are non-vets are pushed outside. No problem with hiring vets, civil service is about the hiring of vets. (with minimal qualifications). However, to make pie crust promises like EO of 2010 rings hollow. Upon asking why, this young man was told that although he qualified based on education, Schedule A and prior work experience in STEP, he was not deemed qualified because of non-vet status. Oh, ok. That’s fine. Then stop with the EO pie crust promise. Until the EO has some $$$$ to go with it’s “sense”, this young man is locked out of fed service. Yes, he could go to DC and a large fed area…however, due to his disability, “crowds”, “loud noise” are cumbersome. He fits better in a small local DoD installation where he is familiar with his surroundings and the people he has had the pleasure to work beside during his STEP years. BTW, this young man is not receiving any SSDI. He truly believes, in his “logic” that in order to receive money, one must work for it. Right now his parents are footing the bill for his student loan. Yeah, the EO is great, IF it works. In DoN, it’s not useful.

David B. Grinberg

Thanks very much for your comment, Julie. I sense your frustration regarding the situation described. However, I would note that one bad situation is not necessarily representative of the entire federal workforce. Furthermore, most negative experiences can likely be countered with a positive one.

Whether the proverbial glass is half empty or half full may be up for debate. I would point:

While more certainly needs to be done to improve disability employment in both the public and private sectors, the current Administration has been moving forward in the right direction.

The proposed Budget of the U.S. Government for FY 2013 contains numerous examples of how the Administration is trying to expand opportunities for people with disabilities across-the-board. Check out the following budget information from OMB.

Also, the Presidential Proclamation commemorating National Disability Employment Awareness Month states:

“In 2012, the Office of Personnel Management reported on our progress, revealing that we are moving toward meeting our goal of hiring an additional 100,000 people with disabilities into the Federal workforce over 5 years. Today, more people with disabilities work for the Federal Government than at any time in the past 20 years, and we are striving to make it easier to get and keep those jobs by improving compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.”

Julie Chase

David, DoN is just one huge agency within DoD which is also very large. The current disability hiring for this small installation is .08%. Efforts made by the EEO are met with regulations that tie their hands, “PPP is first, then vets.” I don’t see how the EO is going to get accomplished here, if at all. Pathways (here) is dead in the water until someone in DoN MC can find some money under a rock. I think it’s great that the goals are being met, it appears to me, that is just for “some” agencies in “certain” areas. DC is not necessarily the representative of the entire federal workforce. Feds are found in every state, large met areas and in small military installations. I believe the DoN Disabilities Office is asleep at the wheel as there is no evidence the EO is being spread “equally” throughout the federal government. Trying to expand….ok. I will take my half empty glass and see. I did advise this person to go to SSDI and get the benefits….it may be a long time before the EO reaches here….if ever. I feel like the dust speck on Horton’s nose. HRDONEAST will not refer to the local based HR (even though qualified) anyone who is not a vet. So the local HR never saw this young man on a cert, and I will add the local EEO was doing cartwheels as they are trying to get their numbers up in line with what the President wants. IF HRDONEAST doesn’t refer, it doesn’t happen. HR power has been stripped from the local HR agencies.