NDEAM: The Possibilities

Filed in Jobs, Unemployment, Workplace Rights by on October 24, 2011 10 Comments

October is my favorite month of the year, and not just for the candy and costumed hilarity around Berkeley, but because it’s such a great month for people with disabilities. Not only did we just finish our second annual Disability History Week here in California, it’s also National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), a time in which I really focus on my future beyond college and higher education (gulp…). NDEAM reminds me of the possibilities for my future, and on a larger scale, the possibilities of my friends, family members and peers with disabilities.

It’s ironic that I speak of the future so much when talking about NDEAM since it’s actually one of America’s oldest traditions around advancing hiring equity for people with disabilities. It was begun by the Truman administration over 60 years ago, has undergone three name changes, but always had the same spirit, to make a fully inclusive workplace — one where everyone is recognized for their ability every single day.

To me, NDEAM represents a torch that needs passing, a goal that needs completing; people with disabilities have faced and conquered many obstacles to enter into the workplace, but we’re not finished yet. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is far too high, 16.1%.  And over two-thirds of people with disabilities aren’t attached to the labor force at all, which is a very large and sad number.

I think part of the problem lies in the misconception that people with disabilities can be a drain on the bottom line of a company, especially in tough economic times,. However, a person with a disability can be a great asset to a business, and not just through tax credits and good publicity.  People with disabilities can demonstrate an incredible work ethic, problem solving skills and positive attitude. Even things such as accommodations to allow a person with a disability to work at their optimal potential are inexpensive (most cost no money, and the average cost is $500) and can improve the productivity of an entire staff.

People with disabilities in my age group need to continue to excel in school, but we also need to be ready — ready to step out of our comfort zones, think about our futures and think about what we want for ourselves. Oftentimes, getting to college is seen as the Promised Land, but there’s a whole world beyond higher education and we need to be ready to take on as well.

This summer I served as an intern at the Office of Disability Employment Policy in Washington, DC, where I got a firsthand look at many possibilities for my future.  They were eye-opening; it turns out the world of work is different than the activism experiences I had in the past.  I hope to return to DC and I will be ready, I will take advantage, and I expect my peers with disabilities to do the same.

NDEAM embodies that goal for me: finding a good future and making a difference in my life, and in the minds of employers. I think that having a career is the highest form of activism for a person with a disability.

Editor’s Note: The author, Hamza Jaka is a former intern in the Office of Disability Employment Policy.  He is currently an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley.

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Comments (10)

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  1. We look forward to a time when people with disabilities are fully integrated into society, with many employment rights and opportunities as anyone else.

  2. Patricia Stone says:

    I LOVE MY GOVERNMENT ~ Thank you!

  3. Dear DOL Disability Officials:
    I now have field an appeal through the First Circuit Court for the dismissal of two cases : one for me and one for Thomas E. Lee, ” I have called you by name you are mine”> Psalm —- who Died riddled with cancer from the BIW ships’ gun fire control unit micrrowave magnetron radar melt-dwon accident and left to die horribly on Flag Day June 14, 1982 in Mayo Clinic. I have been cheated out of my own disability compensation and compensation for Thomas’s having been abused and driven to madness and death. Is this something you are ready to TALK about openly YET? I have much nmore to this story whisch is coming before the DOL-LHC in Boston for “new injury claim and requests to reopen the existing claims for over a YEAR for fraud and illegal hearing procedures involving a disabled pro-se litigant and her family.
    I was left to suffer for over 20 years ( 1980-2005) before I came to understanding about the entire nature of the abuses pperpetrated against me and Tom and my children. Now, I ask for your help so I can help you. I went to college and got a master’s degree and I have been actively asdvocating for social and political jsutice for the disabled since 2001. Please contact me. Please help me be heard. Thank you, Alane Joy Lee , author of the true meaning of the Urban Legend 602p: The Pheonix Phenomenon : Save the Planet Save the Children ” Love votes “Yes” (602) AJL my PHD for LIFE

  4. Did you get my e-mail on needing your help for my disability claims? And can you use me as an advocate in some manner through your agency?

  5. Paul Hippolitus says:

    A promising young talented person (tha author of this blog) once told me — “The best form of advocacy is your career”. Let’s teach that belief among people with disabilities; and, then support the development of the skills needed to make it happen!

  6. William Pabon says:

    We needs jobs for dissability people in Puerto Rico

  7. Lou Orslene says:

    While giving advice about inclusion to a group of employers, a wise man (John Kemp) once suggested they should “just hire a person with a disability.” There is no doubt that putting all the pieces together to build a more inclusive workplace is important. But, giving a person with a disability an opportunity to contribute towards a company’s success, as well as the means to sustain their independence is even more important. Hiring an employee with a disability is the best first step in building that diverse and inclusive workforce.

  8. David says:

    It’s good to hear that our government is doing something about this. Great Article. I also believe that disabled people deserve the same room as the regular people. They can also do things that us normal people can’t.

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  9. Exactly!

    Great call on the positive publicity. I will never forget the “greeter” that the local Lowes used for years. Although it was not a normal position, they hired a disabled young man to be near the front door to welcome customers. What a marvelous benefit for the young man and the good will it created for the store.

  10. Hearing Aids says:

    You are right – employees that have disabilities, such as those requiring hearing aids or other devices, serve to motivate those without disabilities to perform better. I see it as a customer and business owner.

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