Honoring the Past to Create a Better Future for Workers with Disabilities

From time to time, NCD will share the policy thoughts of individual Council Members and others from the community who have interest and expertise in particular policy topics. All entries will be listed here, beginning with the most recent.

Linda Wetters

by Linda Wetters, NCD Member

Did you know awareness campaigns to increase employment opportunities for Americans with Disabilities date back to 1945 when Congress declared the first week in October "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week?" Later,   the word "physically" was removed to better reflect a broader range of workers with disabilities.  In 1988, Congress expanded the observance to a full month with the advent of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).  In 2001, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) was established and assumed responsibility for NDEAM. ODEP continues to provide leadership across the country to feature the month of October as a point of reflection on the employment of people with disabilities. 

In the five decades since government employment campaigns for workers with disabilities began, the United States has made significant progress in assuring Americans with disabilities increased opportunities for meaningful work. Yet, in times of prosperity as well as challenge, people with disabilities have always had fewer opportunities in the workplace than their non-disabled peers.

Today, in October 2012, despite current economic challenges, it is essential that every American be allowed to bring their talents, expertise and passion to the marketplace. Employers benefit from the skills, innovation and adaptability that workers with disabilities bring to the workforce and Americans with disabilities need jobs. Awareness is the beginning; the necessary first step in ensuring full participation and equal opportunity for every worker in America, including those with disabilities. 

One of the innovative ways government is working to create that better future is through the National Governors Association initiative “A Better Bottom Line: Employing People with Disabilities.”  The initiative is an awareness campaign that focuses on the employment challenges that affect individuals with intellectual and other significant disabilities as well as the role that both state government and business can play in facilitating and advancing opportunities for these individuals to be gainfully employed in the competitive labor market.

In addition, over 22 states have enacted “Employment First” legislation or policies which make competitive integrated employment the primary goal for ALL workers with disabilities. Sub-minimum wages and segregated work settings are being replaced by new models and new opportunities. Changing attitudes, expectations and economic forces are the creative catalysts pressing communities to find new and innovative ways to provide the supports workers with disabilities need to be successful.

Earlier this year the National Council on Disability (NCD) visited work sites around the nation, spoke with workers with disabilities, parents and employers to examine and determine best practices going forward. Following our examination, NCD published a report offering recommendations learned in the field for the next steps in moving beyond subminimum wages and segregated workplaces. 

This fall, as a step toward accomplishing these goals and to continue the momentum achieved thus far, NCD plans to begin work on draft proposed legislation. We look forward to engaging with a broad array of stakeholders on these and other important employment issues.  Please, get in touch. We welcome your input.

Find out more by getting NCD’s Report on Subminimum Wage and Supported Employment at: http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/August232012/

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