Congress designated each October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The effort to educate the American public about relating employment to disability began in 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October of each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Later, in 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” in 1988.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal for employers with 15 or more employees to discriminate against individuals with disabilities in any position of employment. The law doesn’t force companies to hire individuals with disabilities, but it does require that companies give them a fair chance. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations upon request, once persons with disabilities are hired, unless the accommodation would cause an undue hardship.
A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job or work environment to enable a person with a qualified disability to perform essential job functions. One example is if a qualified disabled person uses a wheelchair, and is unable to access his/her desk comfortably, it is only right to ask the supervisor to make an adjustment. Reasonable accommodations include:
- Modifying work schedules
- Acquiring or modifying equipment
- Restructuring a job
- Making existing employee facilities usable by employees with disabilities
- Providing qualified readers or interpreters
The ADA also prohibits discrimination in all employment practices, conditions, and privileges of employment, including:
- Hiring procedures, recruitment, and job application
- Benefits, compensation, advancement, training and other conditions and opportunities
- Dismissals, layoffs, and other ends to employment
There are between 40 million and 50 million Americans with physical or mental disabilities, meaning that 1 in 6 people in the U.S. have a disability. More and more people with disabilities desire to enter the workforce because they are capable to do the job for which they are applying. Many of our workforces include older workers, who may be required to do tasks that could eventually cause them to fall into the category of having a disability, simply due to aging.
Companies should encourage their employees to work together productively and safely by ensuring awareness of certain accommodations that their fellow workers may require. Motivational posters encourage workers to perform their duties safely, as a team. We shouldn’t have to be reminded that everyone deserves a chance to be part of that team.
Our government has required special accommodation be put into place to help the handicapped, such as automatic doors, special parking spaces, signs written in braille, public restrooms with extra space for wheelchairs, and other ways to enable them to function more easily. It is only right that our disabled Americans have every opportunity to enjoy life and be a part of a vibrant workforce. Think about our soldiers, who have served this country. Some are able to pick up where they left off, as their job is open for them; however, there are thousands who have been unable to find jobs because of injuries they suffered. They deserve the opportunity to have a chance for a fulfilling job.