Connecting Families to Disability Employment Awareness Efforts

The idea that people with disabilities can and should be employed has come a long way in recent decades.  As a society, we have progressed from a paradigm of low expectations for employment to today’s exciting efforts to spread the message that people with disabilities are crucial members of the workforce.  One of the largest of those efforts is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which is supported by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).  As an advocate for families of youth with disabilities, it has been my experience that families remain unaware of the opportunities NDEAM and its associated activities present.  I’d like to offer some strategies for families to take advantage of these opportunities so they may better help their youth prepare for employment.2013 NDEAM Poster displaying theme "Because we are EQUAL to the task"

Many may not be aware that the roots of NDEAM go back to 1945 when congress recognized “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week” for a week in October. Today, the entire month of October features positive messages and activities around the employment of persons with disabilities.

Perhaps the best known activity during NDEAM is Disability Mentoring Day (DMD). Started in 1999, Disability Mentoring Day aims to promote disability employment among employers, increase the confidence and aspirations among youth job seekers with disabilities, and directly connect youth to employers and possible mentoring activities.

Disability Mentoring Day activities are often school-based functions where students go to a centralized location to meet with employers and hear presentations on such topics as preparing for employment, employer expectations, and linking school work to skills needed in the work place.  Parents can help prepare youth to participate in DMD activities by encouraging appropriate dress, having conversations about employment and how best to make use of the day, and asking the youth to name 5 things they learned that will help them get a job.  If families show youth that the DMD activities are important, the youth may be more likely to take the opportunity seriously.

Putting on DMD activities takes resources and leaders that some areas may not have.  Families can play a key role in advocating for the creation of local DMD activities. Ask your school’s special education staff or work experience coordinator if they have ever considered starting a Disability Mentoring Day. Offer to sit on a committee that will explore finding funding, space, and volunteers for such an event.  If the school is hesitant, families can also approach local workforce development staff (start at your One-Stop/Workforce Center), postsecondary institutions (community colleges or technical colleges may be your best bet), or larger non-profits that serve people with disabilities.  Families can also use their own networks to find local employers who would be willing to conduct presentations, mock interviews, or to act as youth mentors. The more families show that they want meaningful career exploration opportunities for their youth the more likely it is to happen.

PACER LogoAnother excellent resource families can explore is ODEP’s new Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE). CDE is a collaborative effort to promote people with disabilities as employees and the positive value they bring to the work place.  Supported by a wide range of national disability organizations (including my employer, PACER), CDE represents a heightened effort to even the employment playing field for persons with disabilities.  Parents can visit the CDE web site (http://www.whatcanyoudocampaign.org) and encourage their local schools, Workforce Centers, libraries, and organizations to use the promotional materials.

Families want a bright future for their youth with disabilities. Part of achieving that future is preparing for a lifetime of meaningful employment. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy supports a variety of efforts that work to open doors and help youth forge connections to local employers. Families need to be aware of these activities and help youth make good use of them. If your local community does not have these activities, families can work with school and government leaders to start them.

Related Resources from NCWD/Youth

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By Sean Roy, Projects Director for Transition and Workforce Partnerships at PACER in Minneapolis, MN.  PACER is a partner in the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth.

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