Monthly Highlight | National Disability Employment Awareness Month

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The month of October has flown by at Disability Advocates! With the changing of the leaves, so too, comes the changing of our fiscal year, which begins on October 1st. This gives us all new opportunities to continue working alongside folks with disabilities as they lead self-directed lives, and to advocate for access to home, community, and employment. One of the ways that Disability Advocates continues the conversation surrounding employment is to bring awareness and education about the importance of including people with disabilities in our workforce. This month, we were able to partner with many local businesses and a few local colleges to provide this resource to their staff, students and faculty.

Though increased employment for people with disabilities is a constant focus of our work at Disability Advocates, the month of October provides a unique opportunity to connect our mission with a larger conversation. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

The history of National Disability Employment Awareness Month traces back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year as “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. Just like every other gain for people with disabilities, it has been many years of struggle, sacrifice, trial and triumph as people with disabilities continue to be included in the workforce, so that they can live self-directed lives. We have made many improvements, but the work is far from over.  Here are a few statistics for employment today:

  • People with disabilities are 3 times more likely than those without a disability to be age 65 and over.
  • Unemployment rates are higher for people with a disability than for those without a disability among all educational groups.
  • 32 percent of workers with a disability are employed part time, compared with 18 percent of workers without a disability.
  • In Michigan, only 30 percent of people with disabilities are employed. That means that 70 percent of people with disabilities are currently unemployed.

These statistics tell a story of how we value workers with disabilities in the United States. They say that no matter your education level, if you have a disability, you will probably not be working full-time, or even working at all. They say that as our population ages, so do people with disabilities, and this means that we may need to change the way we think about older Americans in our workforce. These statistics point out that Michigan residents are most likely not working if they have a disability. As a society, we have the power to change this.

People with disabilities want to work, just like everyone else. If we are included in employment, we are better able to access other parts of society; if we are included in the workforce, we can help to innovate the workforce. Studies have shown that accommodations that help one person with a disability to complete their daily work, actually increase the productivity and efficiency of a job when those accommodations are offered to all staff members. People with disabilities have skills, talent and creativity and diversity to bring to an ever-changing workforce, and there are resources out there to help people with disabilities connect with employment opportunities. If you are interested in these resources, or learning more about how Disability Advocates encourages this work, please contact us, and we’d be happy to talk with you!

Cassaundra Wolf, LLMSW – Advocacy Project Manager

(Special thanks to TJ Achatz, MSW Intern, who provided the research for this article.)

Sources: — U.S. Department of Labor

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