Celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month with Disability Awareness Activities
It’s time to celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) with disability awareness activities. Let’s celebrate the contributions of workers in the United States with disabilities past and present and showcase supportive, inclusive employment policies and best practices that benefit employers and employees.
What is a Disability?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines an individual with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person perceived by others as having such an impairment.
The month of October isn’t the only time companies should be mindful of workers with disabilities, but now is a good time to introduce this topic to your employees. It’s critical that all employees feel respected and valued. Inclusion is powerful. It increases engagement, innovation, and psychological safety for team members. When employees are happy, the workplace overall is a healthier place to be. Here’s a variety of activities to bring awareness and respect for those with disabilities.
1. Spread the news about the disability rights movement. Educate employees by posting on internal social platforms about the Americans Disabilities Act. Also share the company’s policies and best practices. Post fact sheets on company bulletin boards. It’s everyone’s responsibility not to discriminate against any job applicant or team member. Learning about reasonable workplace accommodations and dos and don’ts ensures fair treatment of those with disabilities.
Here are a few facts to share on internal social platforms:
- A person with a disability includes those with diabetes or depression.
- The ADA protects a person with a disability. Likewise, if others perceive someone as having an impairment, such as scars from a severe burn, the ADA protects them.
- The ADA protects anyone with a relationship or association with a person who has a disability. For example, an employer may be concerned that an applicant whose husband has a disability may take excessive time to care for him. Qualified job seekers can’t be refused employment for this reason.
- Reasonable accommodations include providing or modifying equipment or devices, job restructuring, schedule modifications, reassignment, providing readers and interpreters, or making the workplace accessible and usable.
- An employer can ask job applicants if they can perform the tasks required for the job with or without accommodation.
- It’s an employee’s right to make requests for accommodations. Furthermore, an employer can’t require anyone to accept accommodations or to pay for them.
2. Celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. Ask employees with disabilities, or those with a family member with a disability, to share their personal stories and unique challenges. Tell their stories on the company’s internal social media platform or in the company newsletter. Be sure they are comfortable doing so. Never make them feel obligated.
When employees share the nature of their disabilities, how it impacted their lives and goals achieved, it can help mold a company’s culture to be more empathetic.
To ease the comfort level of personal storytelling, start by featuring several contributions of people with disabilities from the past and present time.
- Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist who went on missions to help people of color escape slavery through the Underground Railway, developed epilepsy after a slave owner hit her head.
- Thomas Edison, who created the electric light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera, became deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in his other ear after catching scarlet fever as a child.
- Albert Einstein, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 and is considered one of the most important scientists of the 20th century, is believed to have been autistic.
- Ludwig van Beethoven became profoundly hard of hearing or deaf around 30 in 1800. He continued as a successful classical musician up until his final masterpiece in 1811.
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States, relied on a wheelchair after surviving a bout of polio. He was the longest-serving U.S. president and believed to be one of the greatest. He helped guide the nation successfully through World War II.
- Stevie Wonder, legendary musician and singer-songwriter, was born blind. He signed with his first record label, Motown’s Tamla label, at age 11 and has been performing since. He has recorded more than 30 American top-ten hits.
3. Invest in people-first training opportunities. Creating an awareness program will provide a “people-first” perspective. Don’t call people “disabled people” but rather “people with a disability.” This perspective puts the person first, not their disability. Their disability does not define them.
Always ask the person with a disability if people-first language is okay, as some oppose it. According to the National Institutes of Health, “communities that prefer identity-first language tend to be those centered on different ways of perceiving or interacting with the world. These communities have developed a culture and sends of pride around their disability identity and don’t view it as an impairment.” People-first training in this area is critical as not to offend anyone.
4. Provide employee training on invisible disabilities. People with invisible disabilities may face more stigma because their condition is not obvious. Educate employees on both apparent and non-apparent disabilities. Training will provide insight into different types of invisible disabilities to help others understand the diversity of disabilities and become more empathic to co-workers. Remember to provide all employees with mental health literacy training. Mental health literacy training provides awareness of invisible disabilities, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Learning opportunities are an easy way to help raise awareness, reduce stigma, ignite conversation, and provide resources for support and treatment.
5. Commit to an inclusive work culture. Business leaders should make it a company core value to agree to accept, respect, and include other people regardless of any disability they may have. Employment opportunities and career development apply to all employees. Follow U.S. President Ronald Regan’s disability inclusion hope when he signed the National Decade of Disabled Persons Proclamation in 1983.
“Let us increase the economic independence of every disabled American and let us begin today.” - President Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States
Diversity and inclusion training can help bridge the gap and foster the inclusion of people with disabilities. By learning about disabilities, employees will embrace differences and see the valuable skills people with disabilities bring to the organization. For example, educating the workforce on people with neurodivergent skill sets, such as strong pattern recognition abilities, sharp memory, and math skills, and conveying how the employees can offer new perspectives as their way of thinking is different. This shared knowledge will help build a psychologically safe culture for employees to feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.
6. Attend a local adaptive sports event with co-workers. Search Google for a local wheelchair basketball, goalball, or beep baseball game. Go and enjoy a great time with co-workers supporting a local adaptive sports event and gain a new perspective and appreciation of those with disabilities. Community involvement opens doors to further knowledge and empathy.
7. Invite a service dog and trainer to the office. Learn about the role of the service dog trainers, the dog’s responsibilities, and how they assist people with disabilities. Be sure to ask about proper etiquette for interacting with service dogs in public. Guest speakers bring a new perspective and offer a memorable learning experience for employees.
8. Donate to a disability organization. Encourage employees to contribute or host a fundraiser by offering to match their contribution or money raised. National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month in October or Developmental Disability Awareness Month in March is a fitting time to do this. For a list of the 9 best charities to support people living with disabilities, check out Impact Ninja’s recommendations. Be sure to check out local organizations, too.
HSI Can Help
Providing employees full access to learning on topics such as emotional intelligence, active listening, and empathy is a critical step in transforming your culture.
HSI’s award-winning microlearning solution helps organizations of all sizes and industries upskill their people and arm them with the knowledge and soft skills needed to break down barriers and build connections across the organization.
Here’s a sampling of video-based courses HSI offers:
- Americans with Disabilities Act: ADA for Managers
- Equal Pay Act: EPA for Employees
- Emotional Intelligence: Developing Empathy
- Emotional Intelligence: How To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
- Listening Skills: Active Listening
- The Power of Inclusion
- Overcoming Unconscious Bias
For more information on the best way HSI can help, request a free trial of our LMS.