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Disability Employment: A Topic Worthy of Awareness

brainIt’s funny how stuff comes along when you need it. Maybe not to rescue you, although that certainly happens.

Sometimes it’s just a little beep from the universe. It comes when I’m stressing about my disabled child’s future, all aspects of it, everything from Schuyler getting a job, to her ever finding someone who will love her, to the real chance of her very life being extinguished like a candle from that one giant seizure without warning. It was under this cloud that I saw online, purely by chance, that someone else is worried, too. Worried enough to declare the month of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. And my feet touch the ground again, ever so slightly, not because there’s a solution or a guarantee, but simply a reminder that there are plenty of people out there who do care, and who are trying to bring awareness to at least one of those serious bugbears that we fear most.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month isn’t actually a new thing. Its beginnings date back to 1945, believe it or not. That year, Congress enacted a law which annually declared the first week in October to be National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. In 1962, the word “physically” was dropped to expand the law’s scope to acknowledge the needs of individuals with all kinds of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a full month and established its current name.

So here we are, all these years later, with a whole month geared towards raising awareness not just of the issues and obstacles around disability employment, but also to celebrate the contributions to our society of workers in America with disabilities. Incidentally, the theme for 2015 is “My disability is one part of who I am.” This dovetails nicely with the current rise in awareness of the occasionally tricky concept of Neurodiversity. I’m sure that’s no accident. There’s a lot of interesting information out there that’s tied to this month’s topic, including this fact sheet and an interesting timeline of disability advocacy , both provided by DiversityInc.

This is important stuff. For those of us who have worked so long and with such unflagging tenacity that has taken a very real toll on us personally, the end game for our kids is hard to see. The employment numbers for adults with disabilities are pretty bad. Those numbers of adults with intellectual disabilities are even worse. We’ve been led to understand that our kids might be able to get some kind of work, but the nature of that employment is likely to lie somewhere between charitable and downright demeaning. What are the chances for someone like Schuyler to find meaningful employment in our world, one where she and her friends are regular berated in the popular media as not “contributing to society”? And what role can the government play in helping to make an independent and fulfilling life a real possibility for Schuyler and young adults like her?

As a parent of a daughter for whom all this will depart the realm of the theoretical, I confess that the best part of this isn’t the information that’s available, although that’s nice. For me, it’s a great comfort just to hear someone else, particularly government agencies, say “Yeah, this is a big deal. Let’s look at this and see what can be done.”

That’s not a small thing, not at all.

For more information on resources pertaining to National Disability Employment Awareness Month, visit the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.

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2 Comments
  1. Mary K
    October 6, 2015 | Reply
  2. October 6, 2015 | Reply

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