As we embrace the cooler nights of autumn and our thoughts turn to apple cider and perhaps pumpkin pie, a 31-day event graces us with its presence each October when we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Marked with a Presidential proclamation and observances from coast to coast, why do we pay so much attention to NDEAM?
For 75 years NDEAM has introduced employers to the wealth of opportunities afforded by removing barriers and opening up doors, figuratively and literally, to the blind and disabled. The entire month of October is our opportunity to celebrate, honor and recognize the importance of NDEAM. Whether you’re gearing up for your first job, or embarking in a new direction with your life and career, knowing a bit about NDEAM’s rich history can provide you with guidance and motivation.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s press release announcing NDEAM 2020 states that in1945, “Congress declared the first week of October ‘National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week’.” Evolving over time, the word “physically” was dropped to make ensure the proclamation included all types of disabilities and in 1988 Congress expanded the “week” into what we now know as National Disability Employment Awareness Month or NDEAM
There are lots of things each of us can do to recognize this important event.
- Research: Go online to check in with a local blindness or Independent Living Center. Chances are that they are featuring successful persons from all walks of life on their sites. Whether it’s a social media post, a web post or a blog like this one, you will find motivating personal stories. The APH Directory of Services is a great resource for locating services and agencies and it’s searchable by state or province.
- Meet & greet: Many of these same agencies and groups have online opportunities to interact in real-time with well-known disabled athletes and celebrities. Often these online events are in conjunction with showcases of talent such as poetry reading, singing, skits, and employment forums.
- Seek out State & Federal agency events: In addition to the Presidential Proclamation, regional and state governments often issue local proclamations of Disability awareness day or week. During October many highlight NDEAM through symposiums, forums and disability focused hiring events. Check with your local city, county, state or federal government office online or by phone to locate listings of NDEAM public events. You are guaranteed to find several.
- Join the organized blind movement: Every state has a chapter or special interest affiliate of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and National Federation of the Blind (NFB). These are the leading organized blind consumer groups in the United States. Joining the organized blind movement guarantees you’ll have opportunities to meet successfully employed blind and low vision adults from all walks of life. DisabilityIn is also a great resource for information about inclusivity and employment.
- Join a club or two: For many disabled people, advocacy and social justice activities begin at the local level. A good resource for advocacy fun and learning conveniently located on your high school or college campus. Meeting folks of all abilities from all walks of life is the best way to start on your journey to finding role models and gaining career advice.
- Informational interviews: To learn how blind and disabled persons find, maintain and retain competitive employment, look no further than asking for an informational interview from one or more of the above-mentioned groups, businesses or organizations.
- Contact your Rehabilitation Counselor: Rehabilitation Counselors who have ample resources on disability employment. Better yet, the goal of Rehabilitation Counselors is to help disabled individuals find and maintain competitive employment. To that end, they are a natural spring of knowledge and can, if asked, connect you with successful working aged blind and disabled workers.
Pausing in recognition of NDEAM, I am ever grateful to those that have paved the way for us. Their perseverance, leadership and persistence in breaking down barriers, influencing attitudes, and successfully negotiating through the work place is a truly awesome feat worthy of our gratitude and respect. Moving forward we must honor the sacrifices of those who paved the way for us by continuing to passionately advocate for greater access to all aspects of life. From voting rights to measures that promote independence and autonomy, every voice matters and every voice counts.
As a blind adult who has had several amazing jobs and traveled the world, I believe it is my obligation to give deeply to this next generation of persons with disabilities who are seeking guidance and support at all levels of their academic and career paths. Whether you have a disability or not, as a community we have to support each other to thrive and overcome barriers and obstacles that can deter us from achieving our greatest potential.
More than a proclamation or passive observance, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a 31-day opportunity to mindfully and authentically listen, learn and embrace disability, culture and knowledge on how we may all be different, but have passions to be self-sufficient and wealthy in mind, body and spirit. Like NDEAM itself first honored as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week” and evolving to the needs of people, we too can grow by seeking out role models, mentors and programs that advocate for greater awareness of equal employment opportunities.