Washington, D.C., Oct. 1 – 2020 is a year unlike any other. This year will be long remembered for the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic crisis and the hotly contested presidential election. Not only that, 2020 is a year of key anniversaries for the disability community. Over the summer, in socially distanced and virtual events nationwide, millions of people with disabilities celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
2020 also marks the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Since the aftermath of the Second World War, the U.S. Department of Labor has challenged employers to fully embrace the incredible talents of workers with disabilities and make workplaces more accessible.
For 2020’s celebration of NDEAM, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) chose the theme of “Increasing Access and Opportunity.” This focus is absolutely critical given how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the nation’s economy. Before the pandemic, the national employment rate for working-age people with disabilities in America was 37.6 percent compared to 77.8 percent of people without disabilities. Further, there continues to be significant disparities in employment outcomes within the disability community, which varies from state to state.
2020 has been a year where millions of people mobilized a call attention to the iniquities and inequities of the United States. The need for a new dawn of racial justice is echoed by the significant and pervasive disparities in outcomes for people of color with disabilities. In fact, 38.9 percent of working-age white people with disabilities have jobs compared to only 29.7 percent of working-age Black people with disabilities, 39.4 percent of working-age Hispanics with disabilities and 43.2 percent of working-age Asian-Americans with disabilities.
The pandemic has ravaged the disability community and more than 1 million workers with disabilities have lost their jobs.
As the nation observes NDEAM this year, it is critical to put critical resources to use in order to get workers with disabilities impacted by COVID-19 back to work or into new career pathways. ODEP has released a range new and up-to-date resources to help leaders in the public and public sectors make the most of this celebration. You can find those and other resources online: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/initiatives/ndeam/resources.
As ever, RespectAbility will be marking NDEAM with a range of online tools and virtual events throughout the month. You can keep up to date with our current efforts on our website: https://www.respectability.org/category/events.
You also can find an archive of past NDEAM efforts, including governor’s proclamations and state-based op-eds, online: https://www.respectability.org/ndeam19/
Reflecting on the observation of NDEAM, it is critical to note that even as the pandemic continues, there are tremendous opportunities to be found. People with disabilities have long advocated for more flexible telework or remote work opportunities. Businesses now accept telework as a normal part of professional life and many are actively making remote work better for everyone. As noted by the National Organization on Disability, “enabling employees to work from home half-time can save an employer $10,000 a year and an employee $3,000 annually” and “enable tens of thousands of people with disabilities to enter the workforce.” That is an attractive combination for a business looking to cut costs but still maintain a quality workforce.
When people with disabilities are given access to the workforce, both the individual and the employers benefit. People with disabilities can bring new talents and ways of thinking to the table. In addition, they are more likely to be loyal to a company once they are hired. Companies such as JP Morgan Chase, Coca-Cola, UPS, IBM, Starbucks and Walgreens practice inclusive hiring and have had great success. As an employer, it is important to consider these talents and advantages when hiring workers.
“Our nation was founded on the principle that anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead in life,” said Steve Bartlett, the chair of RespectAbility. Bartlett, a former U.S. Congressman, former Mayor of Dallas and principal author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, continued, “people with disabilities deserve equal opportunity to earn an income and achieve independence just like anyone else.”
The RespectAbility staff and board hope you will join us in celebrating NDEAM this year and join us in the critical work of ensuring more Americans with disabilities have the opportunity to enter the workforce.