National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM): From Passive to Proactive!

Group of laughing people sitting a a table with laptops and planners.

We’re embracing the cooler nights of autumn, and our thoughts are turning to apple cider and perhaps pumpkin pie. We’re also considering a 31-day event graces us with its presence each. In October, we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).  Marked with a Presidential proclamation and observances from coast to coast, why do we pay so much attention to NDEAM?

For 75 years, NDEAM has introduced employers to the wealth of opportunities afforded by removing barriers and opening up doors, figuratively and literally, to the blind and disabled.  The entire month of October is our opportunity to celebrate, honor, and recognize the importance of NDEAM. Maybe you’re gearing up for your first job,. Perhaps you’re embarking in a new direction with your life and career. Regardless, knowing a bit about NDEAM’s rich history can provide you with guidance and motivation.

NDEAM 2020

The U.S. Department of Labor’s press release announced an NDEAM 2020 statement. In 1945, “Congress declared the first week of October ‘National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week’.”  The word “physically” was dropped to ensure the proclamation included all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the “week” into what we now know as National Disability Employment Awareness Month or NDEAM

There are lots of things each of us can do to recognize this important event.

What Can We Do?

  • Research: Go online to check in with a local blindness or Independent Living Center. Chances are they feature successful persons from all walks of life on their sites. Whether it’s a social media post, a web post, or a blog like this one, you will find motivating personal stories.  The APH Directory of Services is a great resource for locating services and agencies, and it’s searchable by state or province.
  • Meet & greet: Many of these same agencies and groups have online opportunities to interact in real time with well-known disabled athletes and celebrities. These online events often involve talent showcases such as poetry reading, singing, skits, and employment forums.
  • Seek out State & Federal agency events:  In addition to the Presidential Proclamation, regional, and state governments often issue local proclamations of Disability awareness day or week. During October, many highlight NDEAM through symposiums, forums, and disability-focused hiring events.  Check with your local city, county, state or federal government office online or by phone to locate listings of NDEAM public events. You are guaranteed to find several.
  • Join the organized blind movement: Every state has a chapter or special interest affiliate of the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and National Federation of the Blind (NFB). These are the leading organized blind consumer groups in the United States. Joining the organized blind movement guarantees you’ll have opportunities to meet successfully employed blind and low-vision adults from all walks of life.  DisabilityIn is also a great resource for information about inclusivity and employment.
  • Join a club or two: For many disabled people, advocacy and social justice activities begin locally. A good resource for advocacy fun and learning is conveniently located on your high school or college campus. Meeting folks of all abilities from all walks of life is the best way to start on your journey to finding role models and gaining career advice.
  • Informational interviews: To learn how blind and disabled persons find, maintain, and retain competitive employment, look no further than asking for an informational interview. Ask an employee from one or more of the above-mentioned groups, businesses, or organizations.
  • Contact your Rehabilitation Counselor: Rehabilitation Counselors who have ample resources on disability employment.  Better yet, the goal of Rehabilitation Counselors is to help disabled individuals find and maintain competitive employment. To that end, they are a natural spring of knowledge. They can, if asked, connect you with successful working aged blind and disabled worker

Reflection on NDEAM

Pausing in recognition of NDEAM, I am ever grateful to those who paved the way for us. Their perseverance, leadership, and persistence in breaking down barriers, influencing attitudes, and successfully negotiating through the workplace is a truly awesome feat worthy of our gratitude and respect.  Moving forward, we must honor the sacrifices of those who paved the way for us by passionately advocating for greater access to all aspects of life. From voting rights to measures that promote independence and autonomy, every voice matters and every voice counts.

As a blind adult who has had several amazing jobs and traveled the world, I believe I am obligated to give deeply to this next generation of persons with disabilities who are seeking guidance and support at all levels of their academic and career paths. Whether you have a disability or not, we have to support each other to thrive and overcome barriers and obstacles that can deter us from achieving our greatest potential.

More than a proclamation or passive observance, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a 31-day opportunity to mindfully and authentically listen, learn, and embrace disability, culture, and knowledge. We may all be different, but we all have the determination to be wealthy in mind, body, and spirit. Like NDEAM itself first honored as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week” and evolving to the needs of people, we too can grow by seeking out role models, mentors and programs that advocate for greater awareness of equal employment opportunities.

 About Richard Rueda

Richard Rueda began his career in 2001 with the State of California’s Department of Rehabilitation as a vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. Since 2010, Richard has worked in leadership roles directing Transition / PRE ETS programs across California with leading nonprofits. In 2020, Richard joined the APH ConnectCenter managing CareerConnect, a well-respected interactive resource for job seekers. As Assistant Director, he works with a team of dedicated professionals promoting critical life changing tools and supports.