In observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in October, Paralyzed Veterans of America recognizes the vast contributions disabled veterans and others with disabilities continue to make to the American workforce.
The month-long, nationwide campaign led by the Department of Labor (DOL) raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the varied contributions made by America’s disabled workers. The theme for this year’s campaign is “Because we are all equal to the task” – a recognition of the reality that people with disabilities have the education, training, experience and desire to be successful in the workplace.
“When I was growing up, many people doubted what I could do just because I was blind. But because I had people in my life who instilled in me an expectation of work and showed me opportunities to be successful, I completed college and became known for what I can do,” said Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, in a statement. “I urge all employers to benefit from the skills of workers with disabilities by giving them, including our returning veterans, a chance to show that they, too, are equal to the task.”
National Disability Employment Awareness Month dates back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to recognize individuals with all disabilities, and in 1988, Congress changed the name of the campaign and extended it through the month of October.
The awareness campaign seeks to educate employers and employees on the obstacles individuals with disabilities face when pursuing gainful employment, even during favorable economic times and low unemployment.
Paralyzed Veterans of America works tirelessly to improve the outlook particularly for disabled veterans in the workplace, particularly through its Operation PAVE (Pacing Access for Veterans Employment) program, which provides one-on-one vocational assistance and support to all veterans and their families.
In line with this year’s theme, Sherman Gillums, associate director of veterans benefits for Paralyzed Veterans of America, noted that advances in medicine and technology have expanded the range of possibilities for individuals with disabilities to lead productive lives in the workplace. An individual with paralysis due to spinal cord injury, for example, now has access to power-assisted wheelchairs, computer touch screens and devices that promote independence, he said.
“What’s great is once employers get over their fears and ignore stigmas to take a chance and hire a person with a disability, they find that the tenacity and imagination that got the individual through the rigors of rehab successfully and loyalty garnered from giving him or her a chance results in one of the most dedicated employees with great problem solving skills,” Gillums said.
Disabled veterans in particular bring additional benefits beyond the unique experience and expertise associated with their military service and rehabilitation, Gillums added. “In the case of veterans, employers also enjoy the benefit of tax breaks, and, for federal contractors, preferred status in government contracting,” he said. “The bottom line: hiring persons with disabilities is a real win-win.”
Learn more about Operation PAVE
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.