America remains one of the most progressive and politically aware nations in the world. The principal factors behind this are the various awareness days and months celebrated across the country. From March 1st to 31st each year, the country celebrates National Disability Awareness month. This period aims to raise awareness for approximately 61 million Americans with a major disability that creates significant obstacles in the course of their daily lives.
According to the CDC, one in every four US adults lives with some form of disability, with disabilities relating to cognitive and mobility functions being the most common.
Many of these individuals, despite facing issues far more debilitating than the average American encounters, are active members of the workforce. However, there is still a lot of ground to cover (including sensitivity and uninformed bias) before the average workplace can rightfully call itself “inclusive and diverse” in the context of disabled employees.
This blog explores how awareness can help level the playing field for workers who are already struggling with physical or developmental challenges.
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Brief Foreword on National Disability Awareness Month
The observance of a period dedicated to raising awareness for disabled Americans began as early as 1948. Under President Harry S. Truman, the government began promoting awareness under the name “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week”. This was one of the earliest attempts aimed at eliminating discrimination and bias against those who suffer from various complications.
Within the United States, this instance triggered decades of increasing inclusivity for the disabled and increasing awareness of how employers can take reasonable steps to accommodate these individuals into their workforce.
As a direct result of these movements, disabled Americans encounter far more inclusive spaces (including workplaces) today. However, even with national disability employment awareness months, there is still a long way to go.
Formal Policies and Drives to Raise Disability Awareness
During the rise of the civil rights movements in the late 1960s, organizations dedicated to disability (and consisting of individuals who had experienced disability firsthand) began to formulate concrete concepts relating to disability and leveling out the playing field with reasonable accommodations necessary to alleviate these challenges.
In particular, these organizations lobbied for changes in the way conventional environments were designed and structured. In parallel, they argued for greater national disability awareness to catalyze a change in the general public attitude towards the disabled.
In February of 1987, President Ronald Reagan formally designated March 1987 as a month dedicated to raising awareness with the name “National Developmental Disabilities Month”. This was the first time the government designated an entire month for the purpose, instead of a national disability day (or week). By 1990, this shift began to grow into formalized federal policy.
The ADA or the Americans with Disabilities Act was a major piece of civil rights litigation that criminalized discrimination and/or bias against differently-abled individuals, not just within workplaces, but also in all aspects of public life. This included transportation, school, spaces open to the general public, and of course, workplaces with our without centralized recruitment. The movement began gaining serious traction, and in October 1992, the UN-designated December 3rd as the International Day of Disabled persons, also known as International Disability Day.
Why Equitable Inclusivity for Differently-abled Workers Matters in 2022?
Over recent years, federal campaigns involving awareness for the disabled are mostly run by the US Department of Labor. In the context of the post-pandemic landscape and efforts for economic recovery, the inclusion of disabled members in the American workforce has gained greater importance than it has at any point in history.
For the economy to rebound from the massive shrinkage incurred during COVID-19, it is extremely important to expand the workforce and include more Americans with disabilities. Most employers and third parties like staffing agencies are already cognizant of the importance of disability awareness, so the focus should now be on actionable ways to increase inclusion.
At the same time, employers must consider the fact that disability discrimination amounts to a violation of both the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations.
For that to happen, disability discrimination (no matter how unconscious) needs to be eliminated from modern workplaces. Talent acquisition strategies need to move beyond outdated approaches. Individuals with a disability should no longer be viewed as liabilities, but as equals who are just as valuable and productive (if not more) than able employees.
How Can Inclusive Employers Combat Disability Discrimination?
An employer with the reputation (or perceived reputation) of being discriminatory towards disabled candidates or workers will struggle to present itself as an appealing option to candidates. This will, in turn, limit the kind of talent they can access/onboard. Even the most localized staffing efforts, like filling manufacturing roles through third parties like Pittsburgh staffing businesses will encounter unnecessary obstacles.
By extension, instances of disability discrimination can and do result in significant legal damage, financial settlements, and reputational harm. Preventing these eventualities is crucial for firms to remain both sustainable and reputable. These tips are excellent starting points for businesses to do so:
- Workplace culture must remain devoid of discriminatory practices.
- Employers must remain intolerant of any instances of discrimination at any level.
- When necessary, policies, hiring manuals, and work processes must be overhauled.
- Managers and direct supervisors must go through mandatory sensitivity training.
- Transparency in investigations and communication needs to be a priority.
- Fair and inclusive hiring practices must become the norm, not the exception.
- Affirmative action must be visible and tangibly present at all business levels.
- Any reports of discriminatory conduct need to be taken extremely seriously.
- Businesses must meticulously document investigations concerning allegations of discrimination.
- Disciplining employees must be handled delicately but in a firm manner.
- Greater care is necessary when disciplining, hiring, or firing disabled workers.