October is National Disability Employment Awareness month. Most people have no idea that NDEA month even exists, much less when it is celebrated. However, it gives us a real opportunity to discuss an issue that is important to the disability community: barriers to employment.
There are, of course, many Americans who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance because they become disabled and can no longer work in their given field or find other work for which they are qualified. Others, however, are unable to find work despite skills, training, education and willingness. Most often, this is because of disability discrimination.
In a recent opinion piece, a freelance writer named Deborah Kendrick noted that too often in America, disability means unemployment. Being an advocate for the disability community and living with a disability herself, Kendrick is more than a little frustrated by this. She notes that when she travels, she doesn’t get asked about her work as other people do. Instead, people often assume that she is unemployed/unemployable and simply traveling to visit family and friends.
Most people probably have no ill intent when they assume that a person with a visible disability cannot work. But the attitude nonetheless makes it very hard to solve the problem of unemployment and underemployment in the disability community.
According to a survey cited by Kendrick, approximately 65 percent of residents with disabilities in one Midwestern state believe that their greatest barrier to employment is the attitudes of potential employers.
Work-related accommodations for many disabilities are more abundant now than ever before. Technology has made it considerably easier for nearly all American workers to do their jobs, including those with disabilities. Therefore, employers need to assume that a job applicant with a disability can do the work they are seeking. And the accommodations they require are probably inexpensive and minor.
Hopefully, National Disability Employment Awareness month will generate discussion and reflection on the largely untapped resource of employees with disabilities. For those who can work despite disability, their only barriers to employment are ignorance and prejudice.
Source: The Columbus Dispatch, “Deborah Kendrick commentary: A disability doesn’t have to mean unemployment,” Deborah Kendrick, Oct. 7, 2014