Disability Employment Awareness and the Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

Oct 05, 2016
Tagged with: Disability Employment Awareness and the Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace

Disability is a challenge many face around the world, but it doesn’t have to mean unemployment and a lack of meaningful work. This October we celebrate more than 70 years of disability inclusion with National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).


What is National Disability Employment Awareness Month?

This year’s theme is #InclusionWorks, which is to promote the benefits of inclusion and celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities make to the workforce. This theme is also a celebration of diversity in the workplace, and the role workers with disabilities play in creating diverse and innovative teams.
NDEAM has a rich history of promoting inclusion in the workplace, but including Americans with disabilities in the workforce started much earlier: in 1920, the Smith-Fess Act was signed, which created the Vocational Rehabilitation Program to assist people with physical disabilities to find work. Other especially notable advancements throughout the 20th century included:

  • The Social Security Act of 1935, which provided for retirees and those who were unable to work (as it does to this day)
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 which established minimum wages for both disabled and non-disabled workers
  • Establishment of National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week in 1945
  • In 1950, the Barrier-Free Movement gains traction and ushers in new standards for building access—in 1968 equal access standards become law for federally-funded buildings
  • Vocational Rehabilitation gains momentum in 1954, with thousands of jobs created
  • In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in federal programs and employment
  • 1990—Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is signed, a sweeping piece of legislation that mandates equal access and opportunity for employment, prohibiting discrimination

Companies Today: Promoting Inclusion

It’s true that with #InclusionWorks: many businesses want to be part of inclusive employment, but aren’t sure how to do so. If you want to hire a more diverse workforce, here are some strategies to promote inclusion within your company: 

1. Make Your Diversity Police Inclusive

Non-discrimination is the law, but it’s important for individual companies to have a comprehensive diversity policy—and include employees with disabilities within the policy. Include those with a disability in diversity initiatives and activities to ensure that everyone is integrated into positive workplace culture. 

2. Give Employees with Disabilities Tools to Communicate

When they are first hired, many employees experience communication apprehension, which is simply fear or anxiety surrounding communications with another person. 15-20% of the population report communication anxiety in at least some contexts, and recognizing this is the first step in giving employees with disabilities the tools they need to communicate. Encourage and empower employees to express their concerns and identify potential barriers to success without fear. This might include allowing confidential feedback, coaching, and other inclusive strategies. 

3. Establish Flexibility and Accommodation

Creating policies that allow for flexibility and accommodation for employees with disabilities can be a great way to promote inclusion, with no negative impact on the business. Telework, for example, is sometimes a great way to include people with disabilities in a diverse workforce. 

4. Take Affirmative Steps in Hiring

Including individuals with disabilities isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for a business’s growth and bottom line. Organizations that emphasize and hire for diversity tend to attract and retain talented employees and enjoy greater customer loyalty. This is especially important, considering the permanent impact of the global economic crisis on staffing levels. These levels, which grew at a rate of 21.6% from 1980-1990, and 21% from 1990-2000, have now decreased by 2.9% from 2000-2010. Companies need to have the competitive edge to retain the best talent.

Inclusion for All

People with disabilities represent a large portion of the population and have a lot to offer businesses in terms of skills and spending power. By making an effort to hire a diverse workforce and include this demographic, companies can gain new insights and innovation, demonstrate social responsibility, and drive growth. October is the perfect time to get started!

Author: Audrey Willis