October marks 50th anniversary of disability inclusion law, while work remains in Kansas and U.S.
Observed each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities past and present and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices that benefit employers and employees.
This year’s theme is “Advancing Access and Equity: Then, Now and Next.”
This year’s NDEAM is also notable because it is the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which became the standard for future disability inclusion laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Rehabilitation Act was signed into law on Sept. 26, 1973, and replaced pre-existing laws at that time, known collectively as the Vocational Rehabilitation Act. This legislation has been essential in requiring nondiscrimination in employment by federal agencies of our government’s executive branch and allowing employees to file a discrimination complaint for violations with their agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office.
It provides opportunities in education and employment for children and adults with disabilities, including reasonable accommodations in school and work settings.
The act also establishes requirements for making electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and the public.
Yet even with this landmark legislation, there is still much work to be done to close the unemployment gap between individuals with disabilities and those without disabilities.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 21% of people with a disability are employed. This is up from 9% in the previous year. Other interesting statistics:
- Across all age groups, people with a disability were much less likely to be employed than those with no disability.
- The unemployment rate for people with a disability was about twice as high as the rate for persons without a disability.
- In 2022, 30% of workers with a disability were employed part time, compared with 16% for those with no disability.
- Employed persons with a disability were more likely to be self-employed than those with no disability.
I work full-time for a health care IT corporation. My past work has included teaching special education, working for a not-for-profit, and writing magazine articles and books. Each workplace experience was unique in the fact that, while I needed accommodations due to my hearing loss, I didn’t always know who or how to ask.
These accommodations include live captioning of in-person and video conference calls, transcripts of meeting notes and, during the height of the COVID pandemic, that my coworkers wear clear face masks so that I could lip read them.
The U.S. Department of Labor shares these strategies for helping our workplaces to be more inclusive of those of us with disabilities:
- Use NDEAM to kickoff an ongoing disability awareness initiative at work.
- Host a disability mentoring day.
- Sponsor a “lunch and learn” series about disability issues.
- Provide volunteer opportunities to your employees.
I would like to add some additional ideas of what can be done by Kansans to observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Invite leaders of disability organizations in Kansas to share their goals and needs at an onsite or remote event. Some organizations include The Whole Person, Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities, Disability Planning Organization of Kansas, and Disability Rights Center of Kansas.
Read and share on social media the stories of notable disability rights community members from the past and present. The NDEAM Spotlights is a good place to start.
Take a moment to learn more about NDEAM, accessible in both English and Spanish, on the National Disability Employment Awareness Month official site.
Now more than ever, those of us with disabilities in the workforce need your allyship, understanding and advocacy.
Shanna Groves, M.Ed., is the author of two books about hearing loss. She currently serves on the board of the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.