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National Disability Employment Awareness Month Highlights the Importance of Accessibility and Inclusion in the COVID Age

National Disability Employment Awareness Month: an Important and Timely Observance

2020 marks two important milestones for disability awareness: the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 1945 was the year Congress initially declared the first week of October to be “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week”; the name was changed 16 years later to acknowledge individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress moved to expand the observance from a week to a month, giving us the NDEAM we know today.

To commemorate this important year, the Office of Disability Employment Policy chose to center their celebrations on the theme “Increasing Access and Opportunity”. NDEAM is a way we can celebrate American workers with disabilities and remind employers of the importance of inclusive hiring practices.

Accessibility and Coronavirus

The coronavirus has become a catalyst for digital transformation in many companies and industries. This is the age of COVID-19, and technology is at the forefront. In some cases, the pandemic has helped to level the playing field—especially for persons with disabilities. Firms large and small have adapted and created new policies meant to keep their employees safe.

In August, the New York Times published an article discussing how the coronavirus pandemic limited public life for most, yet opened some doors for persons with disabilities. Thanks to modern technology, house parties, professional conferences, and improv classes became more accessible.

And, earlier this month, the Seattle Times posited that embracing universal design could make the digital world more accessible. With 26 percent of Americans having a disability, there is an opportunity as businesses and institutions reopen to become more inclusive.

Vocational Rehabilitation, Disability, and Empowerment

At Geographic Solutions, we’re working to help close gaps in digital accessibility, especially for state and local workforce agencies. In addition to crafting accessible software to assist people with all levels of ability, we also created an effective Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) case management module to track and manage individuals with disabilities as a way of supporting them in their goal of working and living independently. The module has been designed to give program staff the tools they need to improve efficiency and service delivery, while providing individuals with the necessary resources to find employment that is suitable for them.

Although the entire module focuses on helping people with disabilities find employment, some sections are unique because they focus on program eligibility, and tailoring services to maximize success. For instance:

  • The accommodations section of the application is designed to for use by workforce agency staff since they too have people with disabilities making use of the program.
  • The Health Assessment wizard in the VR Module uses a determination formula to help with finding a person with disabilities eligible for VR services.
  • And, the Individualized Plan for Employment is a key component for outlining the services needed by the person with a disability.

The Future of Disability Employment Awareness

To quote Office of Disability Employment Policy Deputy Assistant Secretary, Jennifer Sheehy, people with disabilities are experienced problem solvers with proven ability to adapt. Now more than ever, flexibility is important for both workers and employers.

The 75th anniversary of NDEAM and the ongoing implications of coronavirus makes this the perfect time to reassess accessibility and promote inclusion for all.



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