October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The goal of this national campaign is to raise awareness about disability employment issues and to celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The theme of this year’s campaign is “Expect. Employ. Empower.”
My agency recently hosted two Young African Leaders Initiative Fellows, both of whom work in the disability field in their home countries of Ghana and Tanzania. They told us that in their countries the expectation for people with disabilities is a life of begging in the streets.
In the U.S. we say that our expectation for people with disabilities is quite different: that most will achieve some sort of gainful employment. Yet, the reality is that in 2014 the labor force participation of people with disabilities is only 19.4 percent.
We must not lower our expectations. But clearly we have to do more to make those expectations a reality. The other two words in this year’s campaign slogan are “employ” and “empower.” The business, government and nonprofit sectors must employ more people with disabilities. Most on-the-job accommodations for people with disabilities are quite inexpensive. Further, people with disabilities are known to make good, loyal workers. And finally, we must empower people with disabilities to believe that they can be gainfully employed and to take the steps that lead in that direction.
Increasing the number of workers with disabilities is good for everyone — good for business because they get good, steady workers; good for people with disabilities because they get a paycheck and the joy of contributing to society; and good for the U.S. taxpayer because the more workers with disabilities, the more taxes they pay and the fewer benefits they require. Work pays for everyone!
executive director, Advocacy Center