National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) began as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week in October of 1945. The name for the observance has since been changed to reflect the fact that not all disabilities are physical in nature. The observance that began 65 years ago highlighted the contributions of persons with disabilities, however, it did not discount that persons with disabilities had not been contributing to their communities the many years before the creation of NDEAM.
As Nichole Kelly points out when discussing Hephaestus in her essay Deformity and Disability in Greece and Rome from This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies, “…Hephaestus reputation for his skills as an artisan is indicative of an economic reality in the ancient world…” Being a person with a disability did not automatically disqualify one from productive work in everyday life within these societies.
In 1935, ten years before the start of what we now know as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a group of individuals with disabilities came together as the League of the Physically Handicapped. They protested what they saw as unfair and restrictive practices regarding employment of people with disabilities in the Works Progress Administration during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Ironically, President Roosevelt himself had a disability. He came down with poliomyelitis in the summer of 1921, at age 39. The disease left him paralyzed from the waist down. This fact was hidden from the general public throughout his eleven years in office. Further information regarding the President’s disability can be found in Hugh Gregory Gallagher’s, FDR‘s Splendid Deception.
According to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, the aim of NDEAM is to “increase the public’s awareness of the contributions and skills of American workers with disabilities.” The office works under the auspices of the Department of Labor to increase the visibility of workers with disabilities in the labor force, and encourages schools and businesses to participate. As far as I can determine, those businesses or schools that choose to do so have wide leeway in determining what to do in observance of NDEAM.
The Office of Disability Employment Policy also offers information to employers who wish to hire people with disabilities through their webpage titled, Business Sense. Within this section are resource articles from 2008 to 2011 for the employer who wishes to hire people with disabilities. Included, (among many others) are articles detailing universal design in the workplace, and an article featuring the Job Accommodation Network. Anyone may access the articles, whether they are an employer or not, allowing an open exchange of information for all.
What do you think of National Disability Employment Awareness Month? Do you think it accomplishes the goal stated by the Office of Disability Employment Policy? Are there ways it could be improved?