By Saige Draeger
This is a historic year for people with disabilities.
The new decade marks 30 years since the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the cornerstone of civil rights legislation for people with disabilities.
October brings another historic milestone, as the United States celebrates the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).
Started in 1945, NDEAM seeks to celebrate workers with disabilities and raise awareness among employers about the importance of adopting inclusive hiring practices to engage and enable the success of a diverse workforce.
This year’s theme “Increasing Access and Opportunity” comes on the heels of a tumultuous economic year, as the country continues to grapple with widespread impacts of COVID-19. Upending conventional workplace norms, COVID-19 is forcing employers and workers alike to innovate and adapt, two areas in which people with disabilities have long excelled.
While the path to economic recovery is uncertain, the changes to work environments brought on by COVID-19 create opportunities for historically overlooked segments of the workforce to access employment. Workplace policies once considered accommodations, such as telework and flexible scheduling, have now become the pandemic norm, with some of the country’s largest firms making these changes permanent.
Normalizing workplace accommodations and bolstering employee access to them will be a major factor in the road to economic recovery. U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia underscored this point, stating, “Ensuring that America’s workplaces continue to include and accommodate people with disabilities will be an important part of our economic rebound.”
At least 13 governors and three state legislatures have issued proclamations celebrating NDEAM. To learn more about NDEAM and how to commemorate this historic anniversary, the U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy has put together a comprehensive list of resources for employers, employees, policymakers—among many others—with specific actions, such as educating employees, reviewing company policies, and featuring NDEAM on social media, all aimed at raising awareness and increasing opportunities for people with disabilities at work.
Saige Draeger is a research analyst in NCSL’s Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.