By Dan Rutten
National Disability Employment Awareness Month is now in its 29th year and it’s amazing to think about the progress we have made in the last three decades since its inception. From the shifting emphasis on the value of community-based employment over segregated labor, to the increased acknowledgement of the idea that anyone can work if we focus on what a person can do rather than their perceived limitations, and more recently, the large employer initiatives focusing on hiring individuals with disabilities within corporate and governmental entities, we are moving closer to the conclusion that disability does not in fact, mean inability.
That said, there is still a lot of work to be done. High rates of unemployment and under employment for individuals with disabilities is very apparent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with disabilities still experience an unemployment rate that is double of that of the population of people who do not identify as having a disability. And many of those who are employed are seeking more hours and higher pay than they currently are currently receiving.
The good news is this though, as a field of professionals we continue to get better at our jobs and how we provide quality services to individuals. We are finding great successes when partnering with DVR and schools to start providing employment services earlier, knowing that statistics show that if students with a disability leaves school/transition programs with a job, they have a higher likelihood of maintaining employment as adults. We are utilizing technology to give people a louder voice and the opportunity to engage in activities that may not have been possible without it. We are removing our own barriers of silo-ing ourselves by creating more cross-agency collaborations, realizing that we as individuals and entities don’t always have all the answers. And most importantly, we are doing a better job at listening to those we are partnering with to advance their careers, ensuring that we help to create opportunities that match a person’s skills and interests, leading to increased longevity and success.
As National Disability Employment Awareness Month rolls along there will be many opportunities to celebrate, network, and learn from others in our community.