October is… National Disability Employment Awareness Month

There is a “day/week/month” to celebrate or draw attention to everything.  For example, October 14th, was National Dessert Day.*  So, get some of your leftover ice cream and take a look at the information included in this article regarding an awareness month in October: National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

NDEAM is led by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).  The purpose of ODEP is “to invest in systems change efforts that result in increased community-based, integrated employment opportunities for individuals with significant disabilities.”  (My question is who is to determine what “significant disability” means?)  The theme of NDEAM in 2016 is #InclusionWorks.  According to the Department of Labor, that means inclusion into all facets of work – business, opportunity and innovation.  If you look through the NDEAM page on the DOL website, you will see that the government has various suggestions on how employers should commemorate NDEAM: review policies, establish an ERG, create a display, train supervisors, educate employees, publish articles, feature NDEAM in social media activities, and participate in disability mentoring day.  (Given the abysmal employment numbers for the disabled, I think it’s really the employers that need to be educated on the abilities of the disabled, not just the employees.)

As positive as NDEAM is, its effectiveness is questionable.  According to a recent news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of unemployed disabled Americans was 8.7% in September 2016.  In September 2015, this number was 10.4%.  For non-disabled Americans, the unemployment rate went from 4.7% in September 2015 to 4.6% this year.  It may seem that, in the past year, the disabled have had an easier time gaining employment, but the unemployment rate for the disabled is still twice the number of that of the general population and even this number’s validity is questionable.  People are only considered unemployed if they have been looking for work within the past 4 weeks and, after years of unemployment, one may no longer search for employment every month.  (On the other hand, there are only certain activities the government considers “actively searching for work,” so some people, disabled and not, may have been searching for work in other ways.)  For many disabled, they have been unemployed for much longer than a month.  For this and other similar reasons, many disabled are simply considered “not in the labor force”.  (Approximately 30% of working-age Americans are considered “not in the workforce”.  For the disabled, this number is about 80%.)

Neither President Obama nor any former President is to blame, per se, for America’s seemingly ineffectiveness disability-related employment policies.  Really, no one is to blame.  In fact, compared to 70+ years ago, the disabled are now treated with much more respect.  Recognized in various forms since 1945, politicians and the public simply don’t know what to do to properly “celebrate” NDEAM.  As you will see in my next posts, politicians throughout the years have simply not known what to do to help the America’s ever-increasing disabled population in relation to employment issues.

* Specifically related to TBI, the world honors Brain Injury Awareness Day on March 22.

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