National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a federally designated period for recognizing the contributions of employees with disabilities. Whether you’re a leader in a small, midsize or large organization, you likely manage employees who have seen and unseen disabilities, all of whom have unique experiences in the workforce. People with disabilities experience disability-related biases at work, have received fewer expressions of employer interest when disclosing their disabilities on well-qualified mock job applications and contend with a lack of physical accessibility and other accommodations in some workplaces. During NDEAM and beyond, it’s critical to make these and other ableist practices obsolete.
“NDEAM was created to bring awareness to the many people with disabilities who contribute to the U.S. workforce and economy. It’s incumbent upon us as leaders to continually celebrate and value the skills of people with disabilities, especially knowing that this is one of the most untapped talent markets,” says Giselle Mota, Chief of Product Inclusion, ADP, and External Affairs Lead for Thrive, ADP’s disabilities-focused BRG. “By developing accessible experiences, providing accommodations and committing to disability diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), we can create better workplaces, hiring processes and products and services for people with disabilities. NDEAM is the perfect time to evaluate these plans and develop actionable efforts for the rest of the year.”
What Is National Disability Employment Awareness Month?
National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), also known as “Disability Awareness Month” or “Disabilities Awareness Month,” acknowledges, celebrates and commemorates the contributions of employees with disabilities. It also raises awareness of employment-related issues unique to people with disabilities. NDEAM was formalized by Congress in 1988 and is celebrated annually in October. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) selects its theme each year. The theme for 2022 is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.”
What Is the Meaning or Significance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month?
The history of NDEAM traces back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” The declaration was part of an organized effort to educate the public about issues surrounding disabilities and employment. In 1962, “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 NDEAM.
How Do You Celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month at Work?
Celebrate NDEAM at work by learning the facts. The DOL also maintains an NDEAM toolkit that may prove helpful to organizations looking to celebrate. Plan events with inclusivity in mind. Seek expertise in DE&I, inclusive language and disability employment issues. Avoid pressuring employees, especially employees with disabilities, to plan and participate, and be kind, humble and diplomatic if you plan to ask them to be involved. For some practical ways to recognize NDEAM, check out the list of ideas below, inspired by the activities of ADP’s Thrive BRG:
5 Ways To Recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month at Work
1. Discuss the importance of disability inclusion
Consider convening a panel of qualified leaders, experts, employees with disabilities, caregivers and allies to discuss the importance of disability inclusion at work. Part of the “I” in DE&I, disability inclusion is defined as “including people with disabilities in everyday activities and encouraging them to have roles similar to their peers who do not have a disability.” A discussion panel is a prime opportunity to educate employees about disability inclusion and let employees with disabilities, caregivers and allies share their personal and professional experiences. Other potential discussion topics include disability-based discrimination in the workplace, seen and unseen disabilities, accommodations for employees with disabilities, self-identification, accessible technology and neurodiversity.
Make your discussions as inclusive and accessible as possible by providing virtual attendance options, post-event recordings, alt-text in any images used, video captions, sign language interpreters and self-descriptive speaker introductions — for example, “I am a man with black hair, brown eyes and glasses. I’m currently in my office.” Additionally, avoid blinking or flashing elements, as they may affect those who are photosensitive.
2. Feature a speaker or performer with a disability
Inviting a motivational speaker or performer to share their personal disability story or creative work can generate employee interest in NDEAM and demonstrate that disabilities can be a part of anyone’s life, regardless of their profession or background. During NDEAM 2021, Thrive featured a lunch break and conversation with jazz and soul vocalist Chantae Cann, who performed a selection of her songs, including “The Light” and “Waterfall,” and discussed her experience with Huntington’s disease (HD). During NDEAM 2022, Thrive will host Lachi, a singer and DE&I advocate who is legally blind. Likewise, you might consider researching speakers and performers with disabilities and asking them to contribute to your celebration.
3. Host a disability awareness and etiquette session
Disability awareness and etiquette sessions can help employees increase their understanding of people with disabilities, uncover their misconceptions and biases about people with disabilities and learn specific strategies for interacting with people with disabilities. Consider partnering with a qualified professional who can inform the session and provide best practices and next steps. For example, during NDEAM 2021, ADP’s Thrive BRG partnered with the National Organization on Disability (NOD) to present an awareness and etiquette session to ADP associates. Assumptions about people with disabilities and inclusive hiring were among the topics discussed. Consider exploring the disability inclusion resources and expertise available to you and whether this type of session could benefit your employees.
4. Review your hiring process
Job descriptions, interview questions and hiring policies and practices that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and utilize inclusive language are critical to improving disability inclusion and employment outcomes. What better time to initiate a review than during NDEAM? For example, if a job description requires the ability to lift 25 pounds or the ability to walk, sit and stand for long periods, consider whether these requirements are necessary for the position. If they are, consider replacing them with inclusive alternatives. To develop inclusive interview questions, learn more about ways to eliminate disability bias during interviewing and consult ADA-compliant interviewing guidance. Remember that the ADA prohibits medical inquiries and asking disability-related questions before a job offer is made except in specific circumstances. Additionally, explore ways to improve accessibility during the hiring process.
5. Establish or join a business resource group
A BRG focused on disability DE&I can become your organization’s go-to communication space for employees with disabilities, caregivers and allies, allowing them to network, learn from each other, access educational resources, plan events and effect change. The BRG can also be driven and led by these three groups, giving you a direct line to people with relevant lived experiences who can inform your disability inclusion initiatives. At ADP, the Thrive BRG is home to associates with disabilities and caregiving responsibilities, as well as associates passionate about creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. During NDEAM, Thrive partners with some of ADP’s DE&I professionals to host events that empower associates to drive inclusive, equitable change at work and in their communities. For more on the benefits of BRGs, read Promoting Diversity and Inclusion Through Allyship.
6. Use data to commit to employees with disabilities year-round
Supporting employees with disabilities should be an organizational priority 365 days a year, beyond NDEAM. Look to your people data to make disability inclusion initiatives trackable, measurable, year-round commitments. Refer to DE&I-related metrics, such as those for disability status and pay equity. These can provide starting points for continually setting hiring goals, closing compensation gaps and informing inclusion and employee retention efforts. If you don’t have access to this data but would like to, look for a people analytics capability with these metrics built in. Benchmarking your organization’s DE&I-related data against your peers is also essential to determining how you’re doing in context.
“As you’re building a more inclusive and equitable workforce for people with disabilities, let data reveal areas of opportunity for advancing disability inclusion,” Mota says. “Data, whether in the form of people analytics, engagement survey results, user experience (UX) testing or focus groups, enables you to assess, plan, act on and measure your progress. Without reliable data and a way to benchmark yourself, you could be focusing on the wrong things or be several steps behind the market, which can hurt you in the long run. To succeed, let data lead the way.”