A Look Inside National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Illustration of an office showcasing diversity of the workers

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting Corinne Weible, Deputy Project Director for PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology to discuss National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).  Whew, those are some long acronyms. Corinne has been an advocate for disability awareness for more than 3 years and focuses on employment and accessible technology. She offered some unique perspectives, a history of NDEAM, and recommendations for events we can all get involved with to take part in the action. Let’s celebrate the rest of this month by taking part in these events and showing our commitment to promoting awareness around people with disabilities in the workplace.

What is Your Role and Involvement in this year’s NDEAM?

Corinne: PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), which manages NDEAM. So as you can imagine, we’re proud to play a role in amplifying the NDEAM message. We’re marking the month through a variety of means, such as PEAT social media content related to NDEAM and by participating in a number of NDEAM Twitter chats. We’ve also launched a new video on the role of accessible technology in the employment lifecycle, and we’re hosting a PEAT Talks webinar on “Strategies to Drive Awareness and Engagement at a Large Enterprise” on October 19.

PEAT’s main event is the October launch of Buy IT: Your Guide for Purchasing Accessible Technology. This free online resource helps employers and their resource purchasing staff build accessibility and usability into IT procurement processes. Featuring background and sample language, Buy IT offers step-by-step guidance on researching IT vendors, specifying accessibility requirements in your RFPs, and validating the accessibility of your product choices. So it addresses a crucial step in reducing the technology-related barriers facing many employees, job seekers, and customers with disabilities by helping businesses buy and implement technology that works for everyone. You can learn more at www.PEATworks.org/Buy-IT.

How was the theme for this year chosen?

Corinne: Every year, ODEP chooses a theme around which to frame the NDEAM observance, and this year’s is “Inclusion Drives Innovation.” As you can imagine, PEAT is particularly excited about the theme given its intersection with technology. It really showcases one of our core principles—that when a product is universally designed, it results in a better experience for everyone, including people with disabilities. And by meeting the needs of employees with disabilities, companies also benefit from the innovations that a diverse workforce can bring.

ODEP created this year’s theme with input from a wide variety of its partner organizations, including those representing employers, people with disabilities, and federal, state, and local agencies. The theme reflects what we all know to be true—that inclusive workplaces drive business success. America’s businesses are strengthened by the differing perspectives that various employees bring to the workplace every day, and people with disabilities are a crucial part of that inclusion equation.

Since your time with PEAT and DOL, how have you seen accessibility and awareness around disability evolve?

Corinne: For PEAT, it’s been exciting to watch the evolution of IT accessibility awareness. We’ve observed more and more employers paying attention to the need for accessible workplace technology, and we’ve seen technology infused into disability-inclusion dialogues like never before. Evidence of this progress can be seen on the conference circuit—we’re seeing dedicated technology sessions and tracks at traditional diversity and inclusion events, and rising numbers of attendees at the big accessible tech conferences.

Developers and tech companies are paying attention, as well. Just think of the increasing numbers of accessibility hackathons, and the growing body of IT professionals who are approaching product development with an accessibility mindset, right from the start. Some of that has been driven by regulatory attention and compliance concerns, but much of it is about the business case for building and buying accessible tech.

What is the most exciting event taking place this month celebrating NDEAM?

Corinne: Well, all of it’s exciting. But for PEAT, we’re most proud of the launch of Buy IT: Your Guide for Purchasing Accessible Technology, which I mentioned earlier. After all, implementing accessible technology in your workplace means buying it in the first place. But if you’re new to the accessibility world, the process can seem mystifying. Buy IT helps demystify the quest for accessible products by helping you build accessibility and usability into your IT procurement processes.

In your opinion, what are some goals or hurdles the disability community currently faces?

Corinne: Well, the one that PEAT is most passionate about is accessible technology in the workplace. Because, as Deque knows, technology is in the unique position of being a tool of immense productivity and innovation—but also a barrier to employment and career advancement for people with disabilities when it’s not accessible. One of the great promises of technology is that it can, and should, open the doors for people with disabilities to participate in the workplace by eliminating barriers. But a survey PEAT conducted a few years ago demonstrated that 46% of job seekers with disabilities had difficulty completing online applications due to accessibility issues.

It’s also worth noting that the employment rate of people with disabilities has been edging up.  Technology can, and should, help to continue this trend by ensuring that the workplace tools that workers need to do their jobs are designed to be to be usable by the greatest number of people possible. It simply makes good business sense to build and buy accessible technology. By thinking and acting accessibly, everybody wins.

How can organizations and individuals get involved? Is there a list of events or suggestions demonstrating how they can recognize persons with disabilities?

Corinne: ODEP’s NDEAM webpage is an excellent place to start. It features specific ideas for celebrating the month and offers a link to the free 2017 NDEAM poster, which you can download or order in both English and Spanish.

While ODEP manages NDEAM, it’s true spirit lies in the grassroots events and activities hosted by organizations all across the country, so there is no master list. However, the Campaign for Disability Employment is encouraging organizations to share their planned activities via its Facebook event page.

And speaking of social media, one fun and easy way to demonstrate your commitment to NDEAM is to add the NDEAM “frame” to your Facebook profile picture. Please spread the word!

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