National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) began in the U.S. in 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year as "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to "National Disability Employment Awareness Month." Bob Santos of Link Up Employment Services for Persons with Disabilities initiated the creation of National Disability Employment Awareness Month Canada (NDEAM Canada) to share information among employers about hiring persons with disabilities.
NDEAM Canada produced a video called “A Hire Awareness” to highlight the stories of several people in the workforce who have disabilities. This video seeks to dispel various myths about employees with disabilities including these: the fear that employees with disabilities are more likely to get injured, a concern that accommodations for employees with disabilities are expensive, and the myth that people with disabilities cannot work because they have a disabilities.
Mark Wafer, highlighted in "A Hire Awareness," grew up with a hearing impairment, so he knows disability from the inside. When he began purchasing Tim Hortons franchises, he decided that he would hire people whom he believed would work well, whether or not they had a disability. He has hired a number of people who have disabilities, especially people with intellectual disabilities, and has no regrets. In fact, Wafer found that the average length of time an employee works for him is just over a year, but his employees with disabilities stay with the company for an average of seven years. Wafer says, “As long as you have the right person with the right fit for your company, it has every chance to succeed.”
The video also highlights a man who has paralysis and works for Purolator as a Sales Representative and a woman who is legally blind, who works as a translator for Government Services Canada, and also competes as a paralympian in cross country skiing.
In the U.S., Walgreens has made an especially significant effort to hire people with disabilities, and has benefited from that choice. Their goal is to fill more than 20 percent of its workforce with people who have disabilities. Another excellent video, "How Disabilities are Changing Big Business" produced by The National, highlights the business case for hiring people with disabilities and creating products that are accessible to people with disabilities.
Many people who have disabilities remain unemployed, not because they cannot work nor because they do not want to work, but because not enough employers will give people with disabilities the opportunity to work. Suggested Steps for Congregations, developed by the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition of which Christian Reformed Disability Concerns is a member, provides information for congregations that want to take additional steps to encourage employment of people with disabilities in their communities. The attached bulletin insert can be used to encourage congregation members to consider the benefits of hiring people with disabilities.
Are you an employed person who has a disability? What work do you do? Do you employ people who have disabilities? Please tell us about it in the comments section.