In case you missed it, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) in the United States. However, you may not have noticed due to several other monthly observances nationwide.
NDEAM is sponsored annually in October by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, which says the observance dates back to 1945.
Disability employment is a persistent problem in the modern workplace, despite broad efforts by
the federal government and disability rights groups to promote
voluntary compliance with the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act
The “employment population ratio” for people without disabilities was
more than triple that for people with disabilities in 2017,
according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
One might think more progress had been made by now, nearly 30-years after the ADA’s enactment. But disability discrimination is still a pervasive problem in the employment context, despite incremental gains over the decades.
I recently spoke with Christopher J. Kuczynski. Chris is the Assistant Legal Counsel for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and heads the ADA/GINA Policy Division within the agency’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Employers nationwide would be wise to pay close attention to what Chris has to say in order to foster discrimination-free work environments based on talent, merit and ability to do the job (for people with or without a disability).
Companies of all sizes should consider this:
with disabilities represent a vast pool of untapped talent in a domestic labor force where the unemployment rate is
nearing historic lows.
My (DG) conversation with Chris (CK) — presented in a Question & Answer (Q&A) format below — covers the following disability employment issues:
1.DG: Can you explain the importance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month and why companies should pay attention?
2. DG: When we talk about disability awareness do you think most employers still don’t get it regarding why disability employment is important?
“One of the things that may still be a struggle for employers of any size is the concept of reasonable accommodation. Some
employers may have concerns about the cost of accommodations, although
studies show this cost is not great.”
3. DG: According to a well cited study by Cornell University, the cost of accommodating an employee with a disability is only $500 on average — and the ROI is much higher per productivity gains. Do employers know that?
accommodation is something employers may grapple with because it
requires a response to individualized needs that people with
disabilities may have.”
EEOC regularly provides the business community with Technical
Assistance Program Seminars, information updates on our web site and
“A reasonable accommodation is just a simple request for a change that’s needed because of a medical condition.”
5. DG: How important is it in corporate America for CEOs to communicate the message that workforce diversity includes people with disabilities, rather than only the HR department or just putting information in employee handbooks?
leadership from the top should also mean is that it becomes part of the
accountability for managers and front-line supervisors.”
candidates have all the qualifications that an employer requires,
however, what’s standing in the way is myths, fears and
6. DG: What are some of the specific myths, fears and stereotypes regarding people with disabilities that are still prevalent today in the employer community?
“There could also be myths, fears and stereotypes by employers about safety in the workplace.”
safety risks associated with mental disabilities are no greater than
those associated with the population generally. Safety concerns also
occur due to some physical conditions, not only mental
7. DG: Can you talk about the business case for disability employment, especially in a tight labor market which we have today in the United States…
benefits include expanding a company’s consumer base, added perspective
in decision making and greater return on investment.”
8. DG: According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 60 million people in America— or roughly one in five people — either have or will have a disability at some point in their lives. Anything to add about this?
60 million number sounds consistent with an upward trend in those
estimates, about 20 million more people compared to when the ADA was
passed in 1990.”
9. DG: Can you talk about ADA enforcement by the EEOC and how this compares to other EEOC-laws enforced, like Title VII of the sweeping Civil Rights Act which covers multiple bases of discrimination, including race and sex?
“We also provide outreach and technical assistance to employers, which compliments enforcement.”
10. DG: Due to new and evolving technology, such as decoding the human genome, is EEOC observing more genetic discrimination in the workplace?
most common type of issue that comes up under GINA is related to family
and medical history as part of employee medical examinations.”
As Chris clearly articulates above, it should be obvious by now that disability employment simply makes good business sense for a variety of reasons.
Still, not every employer has gotten the message.
That’s why disability discrimination at work remains a persistent problem 28 years after passage of the ADA and 8-years after passage of the corresponding ADA Amendments Act.
many disability-based myths, fears and stereotypes abound, despite the
business case for fostering workforce diversity—which includes
employees with disabilities.
People with disabilities represent a significant part of the U.S. population, in addition to a large pool of untapped talent for employers in a competitive global marketplace.
All companies need to be aware of disability issues, and not just during National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Employers need to show awareness every day and month of the year.
But is awareness enough?
disability employment awareness is certainly a good thing, employers
also need to take steps to make sure it’s a priority.” – Chris Kuczynski, EEOC
In essence, disability awareness alone is not enough.
The business community should fully embrace proactive prevention, open communication, outreach, education and technical assistance efforts to promote voluntary compliance with the ADA and avoid discrimination.
Disability discrimination may result in EEOC investigations and litigation, in addition to that of private plaintiffs.
This only leads to wasted time, added business costs and negative publicity for employers — all of which can damage the brand image, while jeopardizing bottom line productivity and profits.
More companies need to increase their efforts to make disability employment a priority in the 21st century workplace.
Remember that voluntary compliance simply makes good business sense.