October Declared National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Published, October 3, 2011

President Obama declared October 2011 as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. During this month, the skills that people with disabilities bring to the workforce are recognized, and the federal government rededicates itself to improving employment opportunities in both the public and private sectors for those living with disabilities.

"Using the talents of all Americans is essential for the nation to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world," Obama stated in the proclamation released Oct. 3, 2011.

More than 20 years after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals with disabilities, including injured veterans, are making immeasurable contributions to workplaces across our country. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities remains too high -- nearly double the rate of people without disabilities -- and reversing this trend is crucial.

In both the public and private sectors, employment opportunities for Americans with disabilities can be increased. The president's administration is promoting competitive, integrated employment for persons with disabilities and the elderly through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Last year, the federal government also recommitted itself to becoming a model employer for people living with disabilities. Agencies are working harder than ever to promote equal hiring practices and increase retention, while also expanding internships, fellowships and training opportunities.

Education is the foundation on which all children can build bright and successful futures, and no child should be limited in his or her desire to learn. In September, the final regulations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act were announced, to improve services and outcomes for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families during the critical years before kindergarten. The educational environments being created for children with disabilities will ensure they are better prepared to succeed in the classroom and later in the workplace, helping position this nation to lead in the 21st century.

Work accessibility is just as vital to success as ensuring educational and hiring opportunities. Public transportation is a service that should be available to all Americans, and rules instated this year by the Department of Transportation require new rail construction or renovations to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities. Compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act is also improving and making federal agencies' electronic and information technology more accessible to individuals with disabilities. This will ensure all applicants have equal opportunity to apply for jobs, and it will allow federal employees to better use technology at work.

Americans with disabilities, like all Americans, are entitled to not only full participation in society, but also full opportunity in society. Their talents and contributions are vital to the strength of the nation's workforce and future prosperity. Together, Americans can ensure persons living with disabilities have equal access to employment, and to inclusive, supportive workplaces.