National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2017 banner

October is here, which means it's time to recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) 2017.

NDEAM is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities. It's led by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, and this year's theme is "Inclusion Drives Innovation."

What is the landscape for employees with disabilities like today?

While progress has been made in the employment of people with disabilities, much room for improvement remains. Many people look to unemployment rates as an important indicator. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was 10.5% in 2016, as compared to 4.6% for people without disabilities, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) news release.

Yet a more important indicator is not the unemployment rate, but rather the employment rate, known formally as the employment to population ratio. 17.9% of people with disabilities were employed in 2016, compared to 65.3% of people without disabilities, according to the BLS. And people with disabilities were more than twice as likely as those without disabilities to work part-time.

So we still have much work to do to ensure that people with disabilities have employment opportunities, and that's why we continue to recognize NDEAM, 72 years after it was first recognized.

How does inclusion drive innovation?

We love this year's theme: "Inclusion Drives Innovation." As U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, said in a press release:

“Smart employers know that including different perspectives in problem-solving situations leads to better solutions. Hiring employees with diverse abilities strengthens their business, increases competition, and drives innovation.”

A report by Forbes Insights supports this theme. Forbes Insights surveyed more than 300 senior executives and summed up its findings simply: "Diversity is a key driver of innovation and is a critical component of being successful on a global scale." This is the business case for diversity, that diverse employees bring a variety of approaches, opinions and life experiences, which helps companies to succeed.

The vast majority of executives surveyed by Forbes Insights reported formal diversity and inclusion programs. 81% of these efforts included gender and 77% included ethnicity/national origin. But just 52% included disability, and participants indicated that their disability inclusion programs could use work. NDEAM gives an opportunity to focus on this area.

What can I do to recognize NDEAM?

We're so glad you asked! The Office of Disability Employment Policy has a slideshow of the 31 Days of NDEAM. Ideas include everything from reviewing company policies to assessing the accessibility of your application process to reaching out to media. For instance, today we made a post on our company intranet and this blog, and plan on doing more educational posts on the intranet and social media throughout the month.