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October 29, 2019From The Board

National Disability Employment Awareness Should Last Longer Than a Month

From the desk of Suzanne Erb, Disability Rights Pennsylvania Board President

Yes, it’s that time of year, again. October is the time when we traditionally celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month. For old curmudgeons like me, who have been celebrating it for many years, it can be easy to have a rather jaded view of the whole affair. In many respects, as a Certified Employment Support Professional, I feel as though we have made very little progress in our efforts to provide people with disabilities the basic right to work in the fields of our own choosing, and to be paid on a par with our peers. In fact, the numbers indicate that we still have a very long way to go before we can truly say that we can walk into any employment situation and know that we will have an equal shot at obtaining any job for which we are qualified.

People with disabilities have often been working in one way or another throughout history. Unfortunately, the ways in which people with disabilities have had to earn a living involved begging and other occupations frowned upon by most members of their communities. In other instances, we were shut away in attics, often hidden away from society entirely. Of course, there have always been celebrated exceptions to this rule, and their accomplishments can not be left unsung. In addition to those known people whose lives we celebrate, I am sure that there are many unsung heroes who lived out there existences trying to make the best of their lives.

With the dawning of the Enlightenment, when education of children and adults with disabilities began to become a reality, people with disabilities began to insist on participating fully in the communities of our own choosing, and in a way commensurate with our abilities. Eventually, legislation finally caught up with those of us who believe that education and employment in inclusive settings is a goal to which we should all be able to aspire.. That is something to celebrate.

Is the legislation perfect? No – but it is a start.

The Workforce Investment Opportunities Act (WIOA), offers us the opportunity to realize this goal. But it can only work if we all treat every day as if it were a day to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness.

▪ Disability Rights Pennsylvania works hard to help in this endeavor, and we hope that you can assist us in our efforts.

▪ Be an active participant in the movement. In every store you frequent, think about jobs that people with disabilities could do. Imagine someone you know working in that store. If you have a disability, imagine yourself working there, too.

▪ As you go about your daily tasks, think about barriers that people with disabilities might face in performing some of those same tasks. Think how those barriers could be eliminated, and how that elimination might benefit everyone.

▪ Think about how your company could employ people with disabilities. How can we all work together to make every day a day on which we can celebrate our triumphs but continue to work towards the full participation of people with disabilities in our communities of work ?

If we all join together, we can make a difference. See how many ways you can work towards making work work for people with disabilities. Be a part of the movement! I’ll start with a few ideas of my own.

Every time I take a taxi, Uber, or Lyft, I let the driver know that I am going to work. I explain that I am going to attend a meeting, provide a training, or provide music. These drivers meet many people on a daily basis, and they can spread the word.

I also advocate for universal design in many situations where I encounter barriers. This includes everything from inaccessible kiosks to flat, touchscreen microwave ovens.

I’ll bet you can think of lots more. Let’s all work to make every day National Disability Employment Awareness Day.