Participation in National Disability Employment Awareness Month helps build an inclusive work force. The month-long campaign emphasizes every day, every month, everyone.
Held each October, 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. This year's theme is "A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?"
NDEAM's roots go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1962, the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to "National Disability Employment Awareness Month." Upon its establishment in 2001, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) assumed responsibility for NDEAM and has worked to expand its reach and scope ever since.
Although led by ODEP, NDEAM's true spirit lies in the many observances held at the grassroots level across the nation every year. Employers, schools and organizations of all sizes and in all communities are encouraged to participate in NDEAM, and ODEP offers several resources to help them do so. Activities range from simple ones, like putting up a poster, to comprehensive efforts, such as implementing a disability education program.
All play an important part in fostering a more inclusive America, one where every person is recognized for his or her abilities — every day of every month.
Activities conducted by employers and their employees are an important part of NDEAM. The following ideas are just a few ways to participate.
Review policies — NDEAM is an opportune time to review your company's policies to ensure they convey a commitment to an inclusive workplace culture. For assistance in doing so, read Business Strategies that Work: A Framework for Disability Inclusion (see in particular the first section, "Lead the Way: Inclusive Business Culture").
Establish an ERG — NDEAM is a perfect time to launch a disability Employee Resource Group (ERG). Sometimes referred to as Employee Networks or Affinity Groups, ERGs offer employees an opportunity to connect and receive support from others with similar backgrounds or interests. For more information, see A Toolkit for Establishing and Maintaining Successful Employee Resource Groups. If your company already has a disability ERG, consider using NDEAM to remind employees about it through displays, information tables or other communication channels.
Create a display — NDEAM is a great time to freshen up bulletin boards in break areas or other locations that employees frequent by posting positive messages about your company's commitment to a disability inclusive workforce. Start by putting up this year's NDEAM poster, which is available in English and Spanish. Additional display materials include the "What Can YOU Do?" poster series.
Train supervisors — Supervisors are the individuals closest to an organization's workforce. As part of NDEAM, consider conducting training to ensure they understand their role in fostering an inclusive workplace culture. Such training may include a review of relevant policies, including the process for providing reasonable accommodations. One easy way to provide such training is to make use of available "turn-key" training modules and available materials, such as the Building an Inclusive Workforce tabletop desk guide.
Educate employees — It is critical that companies committed to disability inclusion effectively and regularly reinforce that commitment to employees. NDEAM offers an opportunity to do this through disability training or informal educational events such as brown-bag lunch discussions. Several ready-to-use resources can assist in facilitating such activities, such as disability etiquette materials and the "I Can" public service announcement and accompanying workplace discussion guide. Another option is to contact local disability organizations to see if they offer workplace training programs.
Publish articles — NDEAM offers timely and fresh content for an employee newsletter or internal website. Articles could address a range of topics, such as general information about the company's commitment to an inclusive workplace, the process for requesting reasonable accommodations, or perhaps recognizing the contributions of employees with disabilities — either in general or on an individual level. Alternatively, or in addition, your company's top executive could issue a message to all employees recognizing NDEAM.
Feature NDEAM in social media activities — Likewise, NDEAM provides an interesting hook for social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. For the latter, organizations are encouraged to include the hashtag #NDEAM. Sample postings and tweets are available to assist in incorporating NDEAM into social media activities.
Issue an NDEAM press release — Employers can also issue a press release to local media to announce their involvement in NDEAM. To assist, a "fill-in-the-blank" template is available that organizations can quickly customize and pitch to their local media.
Participate in Disability Mentoring Day — Disability Mentoring Day promotes career development for youth with disabilities through hands-on programs, job shadowing and ongoing mentoring. The nationwide observance is the third Wednesday of each October, but companies may choose to host their own events on any day of the month (or year for that matter). The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) offers information to assist in implementing a Disability Mentoring Day event.
For more information, visit www.dol.gov/odep.