By Dominique DiSpirito and Abeer Sikder
Each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) celebrates the contributions workers with disabilities make to building a vibrant, resilient workforce. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) selects a theme for the month and shares resources for employers, policymakers and other workforce stakeholders. The theme this year, “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation,” recognizes “the vital role people with disabilities play in making the nation’s workforce diverse and inclusive.” The theme also highlights the intersectionality of disability with other systemic inequalities, such as racial and gender discrimination.
This year’s theme aligns with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Equity Action Plan that U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh released in April. The Equity Action Plan contains several important steps to realize the vision the White House laid out in Executive Order 13985 on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities. The plan promotes positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities by expanding access to apprenticeships for diverse constituents and improving the unemployment insurance system. Together, the Equity Action Plan and the 2022 NDEAM theme create an opportunity for stakeholders from every level of the workforce system to increase diversity, equity and inclusion to reduce employment barriers for traditionally underserved communities and increase employment outcomes for people with disabilities.
States are strengthening workplace protections, creating new employment preparation supports for youth with disabilities and engaging people with disabilities and other intersecting identities in employment conversations—all with the goal of improving workforce participation for people with disabilities, including youth and young adults from underserved communities.
- The California Employment Development Department operates a Youth Employment Opportunity Program that provides employment services to at-risk youth, such as youth with disabilities. These services include career counseling, peer advising and employment preparation.
- The New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Planning Council established a task force led by young adults with disabilities and other community stakeholders. The task force aims to develop and implement strategies that improve the school-to-work transition. Furthermore, the task force emphasizes improving employment outcomes for people with intersecting identities.
- The Rhode Island legislature recently joined several other states in passing a pay equity bill that takes effect in 2023. The legislation implements several protections to prevent employers from adjusting wages based on disability, gender, country of origin or any other protected class. The bill requires employers to show that existing employee pay differences are solely based on a narrow set of criteria, such as seniority, education or experience. Pay equity can improve workforces by attracting diverse talent and reducing employee turnover.
NDEAM is an annual opportunity to increase workforce participation rates and highlight the unique strengths, challenges and contributions of the disability community. The 2022 theme notes the importance of increasing access to employment for people with intersecting social identities, including youth and young adults with disabilities. As Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy Taryn M. Williams put it, “A strong workforce is the sum of many parts, and disability has always been a key part of the equation. People with disabilities make up a wonderfully multifaceted group. By recognizing the full complexion of our community, we can ensure our efforts to achieve disability inclusion are, in fact, truly inclusive.”
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