By: Leslie Addison, UCS HR Director
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. As summarized by the United States Department of Labor, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a “national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.” The theme selected for 2013 is “Because We Are EQUAL to the Task.”
Consider the history behind this celebrated month. The grassroots efforts of people with disabilities and conscientious citizens emerged with significant passion over the last century; and rightfully so. Segregation, fear, and well-intended but misguided systems of care lessened the full potential for many individuals in our society. Every person has the right to live with dignity and have fulfillment of dreams, yet it took the collective strength of many voices for that to be fully realized for individuals with disabilities.
It’s been 23 years since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and almost 50 years since the landmark Civil Rights Act. Leaders in the arts, sciences, sports and politics are continuing to break through age old perceptions that define ability or “dis”ability. Take for instance Marla Runyon, the 3 time National Champion and US Olympian in track and field who is legally blind; John Nash, the Nobel Laureate mathematician who lives in recovery from mental illness and whose biography was the basis for the Academy Award winning film “A Beautiful Mind”; James Earl Jones, an American Actor who didn’t speak until overcoming a stutter in his high school years; and Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq combat veteran who lost both legs and the use of an arm in battle and now serves as a United States Representative from Illinois. They, and the thousands of other Americans whose names we don’t know, are serving to realign our thinking.
Despite this progress, barriers still exist. Parents and educators continue to face the challenge of strengthening educational programs that promote workforce readiness. Individuals still face the influence of others who reflect “you can’t” rather than “you can,” and according to a June news release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 17.8 percent of persons with a disability were employed in 2012 as compared to 63.9 percent of persons without a disability.
So this is the month to ponder, self-reflect and really “notice” the thoughts that come to your mind when you think “disability”. Celebrating the unique and varied strengths, achievements, contributions of others is what builds workforce and strengthens our communities. Do you challenge the thinking of others by believing and acting in a way that supports equal opportunity? Or is your contribution an unconscious indifference? This is the time to be an agent of change. Remember … it’s not about “disability”; it’s about all of us being allowed to live, learn, work and play without a label with which others define you. Rise to the challenge. We need you!
Visit the public Service announcement “Because” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9aHT-syZxs
Our very own Tonya celebrating 10 years at Walmart!