When I think about National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), one of the first things that come to mind is the Washington DC Metro… I frequent the red line. Let me explain. When October rolls around, NDEAM posters are placed in various stations across the District, Virginia, and Maryland. One of life’s constants, long metro waits, gives riders a lot of spare time to notice the posters emanating bright lights. Throughout any given day thousands of passengers look at and read these posters as they wait. This year’s NDEAM theme, “Profit by Investing in Workers with Disabilities”, gives employers, CEOs, small business owners, and others the opportunity to realize the many valuable and dynamic contributions workers with disabilities can make to today’s workforce.
In case one thought an underground train was the only thing that pops up in my head, I can assure you this very special month means more than that.
I work at the Office of Disability Employment Policy, where we provide national leadership by developing and influencing disability employment-related policies and practices with the goal of increased employment of people with disabilities. Everyday I see what workers with disabilities, some quite significant, are capable of doing. They each approach their job with passion, excitement and a strong work ethic. Each has a unique skill set any employer would be wise to utilize.
In the past, partly out of my own ignorance and partly from a lack of exposure, I probably would have doubted workers with disabilities were as capable of putting forth the same quality work as those without disabilities. That’s why NDEAM is so crucial; it heightens the awareness of those with hiring powers about the many benefits of employing people with disabilities, and enlightens the many people who don’t fully grasp what these individuals can do.
My advice to anyone reading the NDEAM signs is pretty simple: Stop to think. Think about your place of work and realize that some of your colleagues may have a disability you never knew about. Think about how you would approach a work opportunity if others had previously doubted you. Think about going up to your employer and letting them know all the amazing things people with disabilities can accomplish if only given the chance.
The author, Michael Huberman is a Policy Advisor at ODEP.