By Monica Simonsen, Ph.D.
Every October since 1988, the U.S. has celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)! NDEAM efforts are coordinated by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). First recognized in 1945 as the National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week, the designation gives people with disabilities, their families, teachers, service providers and the community at-large an opportunity to focus on and celebrate the disability rights movement and the progress toward ensuring that people with disabilities have the opportunities and supports needed to live and work in the community. It is equally important that we acknowledge that this is not the case for many people with disabilities right now.
Despite decades of legislative and policy mandates designed to promote employment, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is more than twice the rate of those with no disability: 8.0 percent as compared to 3.7 percent (ODEP, 2019). Workers with disabilities were more likely to be employed part-time—31 percent as compared to 17 percent—and employed individuals with disabilities are more likely to be concentrated in service industries and more likely to be hourly (as opposed to salaried) workers (ODEP, 2019).
Perhaps the most startling statistic is related to the percentage of people who are considered “out of the workforce,” meaning that they are “not looking for work.” While only 3 in 10 Americans without a disability are considered “out of the workforce,” 8 out of 10 people with disabilities fall into this category (ODEP, 2019). As youth, parents, secondary special educators and transition specialists know, preparing students for meaningful inclusive employment is a key component of transition planning. Expectations and experiences matter: Family expectations for paid employment and paid work experience during high school are predictors of postsecondary employment (Simonsen & Neubert, 2013). Building a culture around work—as both an intervention and an outcome—is a critical component of transition planning.
As a teacher or administrator, you can help to foster this pro-work culture by celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)! Here are a few great ideas to get you started:
- Share success stories of people with disabilities who are working in the community:
- Create a bulletin board with featured stories
- Welcome graduates to share their story
- Showcase famous people with disabilities
- Educate all students about disability history. The rich and complex history of people with disabilities and the disability rights movement can be highlighted through assemblies or classroom activities (i.e. host a poster contest, announce one disability-related fact every day over the school announcements, read a book by and about a person with a disability, etc.)
- Connect youth and families with resources
- Host a transition fair and invite adult employment agencies
- Arrange a tour of community providers for youth and their families
- Post facts, success stories and resources on social media! Commit to creating or sharing something related to NDEAM every day in the month of October!
Share, educate, connect and post during the month of October to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and promote a pro-work culture in your school and community!
U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (February 2019). National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Retrieved May 30, 2019, from https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/educators.htm
U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy. ADA Timeline Alternative (2019). Retrieved May 30, 2019, from https://www.dol.gov/featured/ada/timeline/alternative
U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (February 2019). Persons with a disability: Labor force characteristics-2018. Retrieved May 30, 2019, from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/disabl.pdf