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Celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2021

written by Daniel Bryant

Two female employees talk with their disabled coworker in a wheelchair at the office.

What is National Disability Employment Awareness Month?

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM for short) is held every October to celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities to workplaces in the United States.

What is the theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2021?

Every year, the U.S. Department of Labor proposes a different theme for NDEAM. The theme for 2021 is “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” This theme is intended to stress the importance of people with disabilities to be able to have access to employment opportunities as our country tries to recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

What does disability awareness mean?

Disability awareness is intended to educate the general population about how we can be a more inclusive and equitable place for everyone, including those with or without a disability.

How can I participate in National Disability Employment Awareness Month?

Review policies

This month is a great time to review your company’s policies as well as take into consideration if there are things you can do to help create a more inclusive culture at the office or one that’s more accessible.

Educate yourself and others through disability training

One person cannot create an inclusive environment at their workplace. It takes a team effort, and if not everyone is fully on board, that can create serious issues at every level. One way to build that inclusive environment is to propose and/or host a disability training session. There are many local disability organizations out there and some of them may offer workplace training programs.

Be a mentor for a day (or longer)

Disability Mentoring Day is observed nationwide on the third Wednesday of every October, right in the middle of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. (This year, the exact date is October 13, 2021.) This day is used to further career development for youth with disabilities in a number of ways, including:

  • hands-on programs
  • job shadow opportunities
  • mentorships

Of course, you don’t have to be a mentor just on this holiday; you can offer mentorship programs and other opportunities throughout the month or throughout the year.

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) website has further information on how you can implement a Disability Mentoring Day event and make a positive impact on another person’s life.

I’m an employee with disabilities — what are my rights in the workplace?

Employees with disabilities are protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disability Act of 1999 (ADA), as amended (ADAAA). The ADA/ADAAA is a federal law that prohibits certain entities — including but not limited to private employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or joint labor management committees — from discriminating against a qualified individual (including job applicants, employees and former employees, or participants in training or apprenticeship programs) because of their disability in any aspect of employment. An aspect of employment includes hiring practices, job application procedures, advancement or promotions, compensation, job training, discharge of employee, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. In 2008, the Act was amended to expand coverage to the broadest extent.

Disability discrimination occurs when an entity covered by the ADA treats a qualified individual with a disability differently (that is, less favorably) because they have a disability. Qualified individuals can be employees or an applicant in the hiring process.

Disability under the ADA/ADAAA

Under the ADA, a disability is defined in 3 ways:

  1. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits 1 or more life activities;
  2. having a record of an impairment; or
  3. being perceived as having an impairment.

A physical impairment can affect one or more body systems. Examples of physical impairments include a disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or the loss of a body part that affects one or more body systems.

Mental impairments include mental and psychological disorders, such as learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and emotional or mental illnesses (i.e., depression).

Importantly, to have a disability, it does not have to be a permanent condition. It also does not have to manifest negative symptoms on a frequent basis. For example, if you have a heart condition, but it is controlled through prescription medication, it can still be a disability.

Reasonable accommodation

To be protected under the ADA, you must be able to perform the essential functions of your position with or without an accommodation. What does that mean? Let’s assume an employee suffers from migraines at times. For purposes of this hypothetical, the employee’s job duties require him to be in an office setting. When migraines occur, dimming the lights and/or wearing sunglasses inside helps prevent and/or lessen the negative symptoms associated with migraines. Is this a reasonable accommodation for an individual? Generally, yes, so long as the individual can perform the essential functions of the position and does not cause the employer undue hardship.

Although no formal words are required, you must request a reasonable accommodation to your supervisor or the HR department. This request can be reported either verbally or in writing. When the request is reported, the employer has an ongoing duty to engage in an interactive process to determine whether there is a reasonable accommodation(s). This interactive process is individualized for each person. Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations:

  • job restructuring
  • additional medical leave beyond the permitted amount under FMLA
  • reassignment to an open position
  • light duty
  • modified work schedules and policies
  • flexible leave
  • specialized training
  • purchase and/or provision of equipment and devices such as readers, personal assistants, and communication access providers

As mentioned above, reasonable accommodation requires you to perform the essential functions of your job, and your employer cannot unilaterally determine that you are unable to perform your job. If your disability makes it impossible for you to perform those essential functions, however, you may not be protected under the ADA. Each situation is highly individualized, so it is best to contact an employment attorney who represents employees to discuss your options.

Speak to an attorney about your disability rights during National Disability Employment Awareness Month

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is about more than educating people about disabilities — it’s about ensuring your rights are not being violated in the workplace.

Disability discrimination is more common than you may be aware and it is possible your employee rights are being violated through discrimination.

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of a disability, actual or perceived, or from having a record of a disability, contact the Columbus, Ohio, and Toledo, Ohio, disability discrimination lawyers at Bryant Legal LLC.