Today marks the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark legislation ensures a more inclusive America – one where every person has the right to fully participate in society, including employment.
Today and every day, people with disabilities add significant value to America’s workplaces and economy. Their skills and talents benefit businesses of all sizes and in all industries.
You may not know that I am blind. From day one, my parents invested belief in my capability. They fought for me to attend our local public school and be woven into the fabric of our community. They instilled in me a love of learning and expectation of work. And as I got older, I came to understand the value of their outlay. I started reinvesting the dividends in myself through education and advocacy – and work. Work is fundamental to my life.
I’m proud to say that the spirit of the ADA underpins all of the work that we do in the Office of Disability Employment Policy, from technical assistance, to education and policy development. We understand that the problems and solutions applicable to the employment success of workers with disabilities impact the entire workforce. This includes aging workers, injured workers, at-risk youth, women, people of color, foreign labor, and unemployed and underemployed workers.
When a workplace is welcoming of people with disabilities, employers gain needed skills and varied perspectives on how to confront challenges and achieve organizational success. Individuals with disabilities gain dignity, respect and self-determination. And, most important, society as a whole benefits from a more inclusive culture where every person is valued for his or her contributions.
Each of us can become a link for inclusion of individuals with disabilities on an individual, community or employer level. Start by reading our “What Can You Do?” outreach toolkit that promotes positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities in your business and community.
For more information, visit ODEP’s newly re-designed website at http://www.dol.gov/odep/.
Kathy Martinez is Assistant Secretary of the U. S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.