October marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), and the theme for 2017 is “Inclusion Drives Innovation,” reports the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The annual month of recognition helps raise awareness about issues affecting employees and employers of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.
NDEAM often takes a backseat to serious issues affecting America’s workers, like job reports and the ongoing debate over political issues, but your organization can be part of this year’s message for inclusion by understanding a few things about NDEAM.
How Did NDEAM Begin?
Beginning in 1945, Congress enacted legislation recognizing the first week of October as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” The language of the original proclamation in law existed before the creation of and widespread use of person-centered language. By 1962, Congress began to realize the original proclamation seemed to limit the people at its core, leaving those with IDD or mental disabilities on the fringes of the workforce. So, Congress removed the word “physically” in the same year.
This changed the fundamental basis for NDEAM, making it inclusive of all individuals with disabilities, including people with IDD. Therefore, employers and employees could recognize the contributions and needs of employees who had any type of disability. But, the proclamation continued to use the word “handicapped,” seeming to isolate those with disabilities from their peers.
In 1988, Congress took another step in expanding awareness for employing those with disabilities. The legislative body expanded the week to the full month of October and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” dropping the stigmatizing language from the annual event.
Why Is It Important to Employ Individuals With Disabilities?
People with disabilities have a track record of providing superior service and ability to perform difficult tasks in the work setting, reports Michael Morris of the Huffington Post. People with disabilities are the largest and most diverse minority in the U.S., but only 20 percent of Americans with disabilities experience the benefits of employment.
Compared to a 4.6-percent unemployment rate among people without disabilities, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 8.7 percent, nearly double the national rate. Employers may also have conceptions about hiring individuals with IDD or other disabilities, including cost of accommodations or fear of litigation. Even when accommodations are necessary, businesses experience a one-time cost of approximately $500 in making such accommodations.
Employment for those with and without disabilities has a direct impact by enabling people to maintain financial independence, create a budget, set financial goals, accrue assets and more. Employment can help individuals with disabilities obtain health insurance or participate in health-boosting activities, like company sporting events or preventative health screenings, promoting a healthy, active lifestyle. Meanwhile, socialization through employment can reduce feelings of poor self-worth and improve mental health.
Current Laws Give Incentives to Businesses Employing People With Disabilities
Employers with misconceptions about hiring people with IDD may also be missing potential tax incentives. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), businesses employing individuals with IDD or any other disability may qualify for the following tax incentives:
- A Disabled Access Credit helps businesses make accommodations for providing access to individuals with disabilities. Eligible businesses must have earned less than $1 million in the previous year and have employed no more than 30 people.
- The Barrier Removal Tax Deduction allows businesses to claim a tax deduction of $15,000 annually for expenses that would otherwise be capitalized, provided such expenses remove architectural and transportation barriers to mobility for individuals with disabilities, as well as the elderly. This credit may be claimed in conjunction with Disabled Access Credit.
- Employers hiring qualified individuals with disabilities can also apply for a Work Opportunity Tax Credit, ranging from $1,200-$9,600. This credit depends on the specific needs and abilities of the individual hired and employment length.
How Can an Organization Promote Employee Engagement as Part of NDEAM?
Your organization can promote employee engagement as part of NDEAM as well. Review your company’s policies and procedures, including hiring practices, to promote an inclusive, engaging workplace culture, explains the DOL. Additional ways to promote employee engagement include ensuring all employees have access to the same resources to perform their jobs to the best of their ability and the following:
- Establish an Employee Resource Group (ERG), which helps employees connect and receive support from other individuals with similar backgrounds. In other words, individuals with IDD may have an opportunity to meet with and learn from peers with similar backgrounds or interests.
- Educate employees on the benefits of employing those with disabilities, and work to reduce exclusion among team members. For example, conduct training for your employees on the accommodations necessary for employing individuals with disabilities and how such accommodations may impact workplace conditions and activities.
Ways to Achieve Better Community Outreach During NDEAM
Although the history of NDEAM goes back seven decades, individuals in your community may not even know it exists. Since this year’s theme promotes an all-inclusive workforce, your organization should work to raise awareness in your community. Feature NDEAM in Facebook and social media posts, or consider sponsoring activities that promote an all-inclusive workforce, like job fairs for individuals with existing or suspected disabilities.
This concept is not limited to individuals with IDD. It includes all behavioral health and physical disabilities too.
Free Resources Are Available Through the DOL
It may be difficult to start thinking about how you can create and distribute brochures and information about NDEAM in your community and throughout your organization. But, the DOL offers ready-to-print, free and downloadable NDEAM posters, drop-in articles, sample proclamations and short stories to help your organization create and plan activities for NDEAM.
All materials are available in both English and Spanish, breaking down the language barriers to an all-inclusive employment setting too.
NDEAM is an annual month of observance and recognition for employees with disabilities lasting through the end of October, but its message rings true throughout the rest of the year as well. Strive for inclusion among your workforce, and break down the barriers to employment in your organization, no matter the season or time. Working together and employing people with disabilities are essential to building unity, a strong, societal work ethic, stability and better quality of life for all.
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