Everyone knows October for Halloween, but did you know it’s also National Disability Awareness Month?
Each October, the US Department of Labor and employers celebrate the contributions of individuals living with disabilities and highlight the barriers they face in the workplace.
This year is a special celebration as it marks the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which along with the The Disabilities Act has shaped inclusive employment policies, ensuring that individuals with disabilities are protected from discrimination in education, employment, and other areas.
In this post, I’ll go over what disability awareness month is, why it matters, and how you can create more inclusive workplaces.
Click to jump ahead:
- What is national disability awareness month?
- 4 reasons why disability inclusion matters
- 5 steps to create an inclusive workplace
- Frequently asked questions
What is national disability awareness month?
National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a national campaign aimed at raising awareness about disability employment issues and celebrating the contributions of workers with disabilities.
It is an opportunity to promote inclusion, diversity, and equal employment opportunities.
Here are some ways NDEAM is celebrated:
- Employers host events and workshops
- Disability organizations host events to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and to advocate for their rights
- Schools and universities teach students about disability issues and promote inclusive practices
Many government agencies and businesses also use NDEAM as an opportunity to launch initiatives and programs aimed at supporting and employing individuals with disabilities.
This includes job fairs, training programs, and workshops.
Each year, NDEAM adopts a specific theme that guides its activities and messaging.
The theme this year is Advancing Access & Equity, a reflection of the ongoing commitment to creating workplaces where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.
There are many ways to advance access and equity in the workplace:
- Ensure physical and digital workplaces are accessible to people living with disabilities
- Promote inclusive hiring practices
- Create a workplace culture of respect and inclusion
- Provide advancement opportunities to employees with disabilities
Brief history of disability awareness month
Disability Awareness Month began in 1945 as a weeklong event called “National Employ The Physically Handicapped.”
It was an effort to raise awareness of challenges faced by people with disabilities in the workplace and to encourage employers to hire them.
Due to its success, in 1988, Congress expanded it to a month and renamed it “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1986, the word “physically” was removed from the name to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities.
In 1998, Congress passed a resolution designating October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).
4 reasons why disability inclusion matters
How does a Disability Employment Policy benefit employers? How about people living with disabilities?
Well, the good news is inclusive employment policies benefit everyone. It helps companies attract and retain top talent, be more innovative and productive, and better serve their customers.
And it helps people living with disabilities feel satisfied, engaged in their work, and to live independently.
Promotes equal opportunities
Disability inclusion is essential because it ensures individuals with disabilities have equal opportunities in education, employment, and other aspects of life. It upholds the principle of fairness and justice.
Inclusion fosters diversity, which leads to innovation, fresh perspectives, and a richer work or social environment. People with disabilities bring unique experiences and talents that can benefit organizations and society as a whole.
Inclusive environments encourage creative problem-solving. People with different abilities often approach challenges in unique ways, leading to more innovative solutions.
Builds a more accessible world
Disability inclusion drives creation of accessible infrastructure and technology. What benefits individuals with disabilities often benefits everyone.
How to create an inclusive workplace in 5 steps
Creating an inclusive workplace is important for everyone. It’s the right thing to do, it’s good for business, it’s the law, and it’s good for society.
Here are 5 steps you can follow to create a more inclusive workplace:
Test your environment
Conduct an accessibility audit of your physical workspace to identify any barriers that may exist for individuals with disabilities.
If you need help, hire professionals or consultants who specialize in accessibility. They can assess a workplace’s physical barriers, including things like narrow doorways, lack of braille signage, or non-accessible bathrooms. This audit will help you identify areas that require improvement.
Also, ensure that your employees understand the importance of accessibility in all regards, including communications (more on this in a bit!).
Accommodate unique needs
Identify the specific needs of employees with disabilities and tailor accommodations accordingly.
Besides remote work options, consider other flexible work arrangements, such as adjusted schedules or job-sharing. For example, a marketing agency allows employees with disabilities to modify their work hours to accommodate medical appointments or therapy sessions.
Also, provide assistive technology such as screen readers, voice recognition software, or ergonomic keyboards for employees with visual, hearing, or mobility impairments and ensure that they are trained to use these tools effectively.
Offer comprehensive disability awareness training to all employees. This can include workshops, webinars, or e-learning modules.
The training should cover topics such as understanding various types of disabilities, dispelling myths, and promoting empathy.
For example, a global tech company may conduct mandatory annual online courses on disability awareness, featuring real employees sharing their experiences.
Also, provide specialized training for managers and supervisors on accommodating employees with disabilities. This should cover topics like how to handle accommodation requests, engage in open dialogues, and ensure equal opportunities.
For instance, a retail chain provides regular training for store managers on how to create an inclusive environment for employees with disabilities, including on-the-job accommodations.
Create safe spaces
Creating safe spaces in the workplace is essential for fostering open communication, voicing concerns, and providing support without fear of retaliation.
Safe spaces are environments where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, concerns, and feedback without the fear of negative consequences.
Here are some examples:
Anonymous suggestion boxes: Implement anonymous suggestion boxes in common areas or online platforms where employees can submit feedback or raise concerns. This provides a way for employees to share their thoughts without revealing their identities.
Hotlines: Establish confidential hotlines that employees can call or email to report issues or seek support. These hotlines are often managed by third-party organizations to ensure anonymity.
Open-door policy: Encourage an open-door policy where employees can approach supervisors, managers, or HR personnel to discuss their concerns in a safe and confidential manner. It’s crucial that employees are aware of this policy and feel comfortable using it.
Regular surveys and feedback sessions: Conduct regular surveys and feedback sessions to gauge the satisfaction and comfort level of employees regarding the safety of the workplace. These feedback mechanisms can help identify areas for improvement.
Create accessible communication
Accessible communications are crucial for ensuring that everyone, including individuals with disabilities, can access and understand messages.
Not sure how to do this? Venngage is the first graphic design tool that comes with accessibility features baked in. You can use it to create accessible infographics, presentations, charts, brochures, and more. Or check out our full range of accessible templates.
When creating accessible documentation, use plain and clear language to ensure the message is easy to understand.
Avoid technical jargon or complex terminology that might be confusing. For instance, if your company is launching a new benefits program, use simple, straightforward language to explain the key features and how employees can enroll.
Here are a few examples of accessible communications:
This accessible process infographic is a great way to communicate company policies that can be understood by all employees, regardless of ability.
And if your company sends out newsletters to employees sharing important news or information about events like in this example about breast cancer awareness, you need to prioritize accessibility.
Another important segment of communication is reports. If you’re presenting a report to your team, company-wide, or even external stakeholders, it’s important it is accessible in case someone in the audience lives with a disability.
Bonus tip: Promote acceptance
Implement diversity and inclusion training for all employees. This training should promote awareness, empathy, and respect for colleagues from diverse backgrounds, including those with disabilities.
Celebrate diversity and the contributions of individuals with disabilities within the organization. Address any discriminatory or offensive language or behavior immediately.
Encourage the formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) focused on disability inclusion. These groups can provide support, mentorship, and advocacy within the organization.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the color for National Disabilities Awareness Month?
The color purple is commonly associated with National Disabilities Awareness Month. Purple is used as a symbol of support for individuals with disabilities and to raise awareness about disability-related issues. During this month, various organizations, advocacy groups, and individuals often use purple ribbons, clothing, and other items to show their solidarity and promote awareness.
How do you celebrate disability awareness?
Celebrating disability awareness involves various activities such as promoting inclusivity, educating others about disability-related issues, and advocating for the rights and well-being of individuals with disabilities. These celebrations often include awareness campaigns, events, workshops, and discussions.
Is National Disability Awareness Month the same as Disability Pride Month?
National Disability Awareness Month and Disability Pride Month are not the same. National Disability Awareness Month, observed in October, focuses on raising awareness about disabilities and promoting inclusivity. Disability Pride Month, on the other hand, is celebrated in July and aims to empower and celebrate the pride and achievements of people with disabilities, emphasizing self-acceptance and promoting disability culture and community.
In summary: The importance of disability inclusion cannot be overstated in creating a world of equal opportunity
As we celebrate National Disability Awareness Month, let’s remember to embrace the principles of inclusion and work together to create workplaces where every individual has the opportunity to succeed and thrive.
Join the movement for equal opportunities with Venngage at your side.