Day in Washington Disability #Policy Podcast. National #Disability #Employment Awareness Month (#NDEAM)
Hello and welcome to Day in Washington. DIW is your disability policy podcast exploring and discussing issues and articles of interest to the community. I’m your host Day Al-Mohamed.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month or NDEAM.
Held each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.
NDEAM’s roots go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.”
Whereas Public Resolution No. 176, 79th Congress, approved August 11, 1945, provides in part:
“That hereafter the first week in October of each year shall be designated as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. During said week, appropriate ceremonies are to be held throughout the Nation, the purpose of which will be to enlist public support for and interest in the employment of otherwise qualified but physically handicapped workers”:
Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon the people of the United States to observe the week of October 7-13, 1945 as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. I ask the governors of States, mayors of cities, heads of the various agencies of the Government, and other public officials, as well as leaders in industry, education, religion, and every other aspect of our common life, during this week and at all other suitable times, to exercise every appropriate effort to enlist public support of a sustained program for the employment and development of the abilities and capacities of those who are physically handicapped.”
In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.”
I struggled a bit with what more to say for this podcast and thought that it might make more sense to have someone else speak. So, Congressman Jim Langevin, perhaps one of the most visible Congress members with a disability spoke at the Library of Congress for NDEAM a few years ago.
I want to begin by sharing a bit of my personal story – what led me to Congress and why the issues of empowerment and accessibility are so important to me.
Growing up in Rhode Island, I dreamed of a career in law enforcement. That hasn’t worked out exactly as I had planned, but life seldom does. When I was sixteen, I was accidentally shot while working as a police cadet Explorer Scout. An officer, thinking the gun he was handling wasn’t loaded, pulled the trigger to test it. It turned out there was a bullet in the chamber, and that bullet severed my spinal cord. I’ve been paralyzed ever since.
At first, I was convinced that that gun, and this chair, had ruined my dreams.
But I learned that a badge and a gun aren’t the only ways to make a difference. You can also change the world with a ballot… a pen… a creative mind. .
My work in government has flowed from the fundamental idea of personal empowerment. It’s about giving people the tools they need to pave their own way. To me, that’s the role of government: not to give people a hand out, but a hand up… giving people the tools to pave their own way to success.
What we see here today, as the Library pays tribute to the historic leaders of the disability movement and the everyday heroes in our own schools, workplaces and communities, is an illustration of just how far people can rise above difficult circumstances to achieve great things.
In the 27 years since my own injury, I have seen the disability community make great strides in the areas of employment and community inclusion. The Americans with Disabilities Act helped businesses to see employment of people with disabilities not as charity, but as a civil right.
And across the country, businesses are finally becoming aware that people with disabilities are a real resource for their companies!
Just last month, I participated in a groundbreaking discussion in my home state of Rhode Island. Business leaders from one of the largest employers in the state, Raytheon, and the local disability community gathered at a day-long retreat to discuss strategies for getting people with disabilities back into their communities and into meaningful employment.
These issues can only truly be addressed in a cooperative dialogue between business, government and individuals, and I am proud to represent a state like Rhode Island, which has been very forward thinking.
In recent years, Rhode Island designed a Medicaid Buy-In program, which allows a number of people with disabilities to maintain their state health benefits when they return to work.
In addition to implementing such programs, the local disability community is constantly monitoring the results and reaching out to business leaders and elected officials to find new ways to collaborate.
There is a great deal we can do here in Washington, at the federal level, to support this vision for the future of employment. In addition to supporting flexibility with Medicaid funds for people with disabilities, I am committed to evaluating and improving the Ticket to Work program, which has met with mixed reviews.
I am cosponsoring a bill known as the Community Choice Act, which would encourage states to provide equal access to community attendant services, such as personal care assistants, and other supports for individuals in need of long term services who want to participate in their communities and live at home rather than in a nursing home. Local and national disability advocates have long supported this kind of change in policy, and I will keep pushing in Congress for movement on this initiative.
As a final note, I want to thank you profusely for your efforts in this arena.
I am fortunate to have access to an array supports and services, and I certainly could not do my job without them. But sadly, not everyone has access to the same resources. I know there are millions of people with disabilities across the nation who are stuck in their homes when they could be sitting in a classroom, a boardroom, or with me in Congress. That’s why it is so important that we all take the time to recognize the needs of individuals with disabilities, and the simple ways employers can meet those needs and allow these talented people to achieve the dream of living independently and succeeding in the workplace.
There’s a lot of what Congressman Langevin says that is still an issue now, several years after his speech. The fight for equality continues.
This is Day Al-Mohamed, hoping you continue to be well, and be informed.
Day in Washington is a product of the Lead On Network. Comments and opinions expressed in this podcast should in no way be considered representative of opinions, statements or policies of any organizations, affiliations, employers or agencies connected with the host. Audio production provided by Chris Wright. Music is “If by Force” courtesy of the Podsafe Music Network and Twenty Twelve Records.
Harry S. Truman: “Proclamation 2664 – National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week, 1945,” September 21, 1945. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=87042.
Jim Langevin Keynote (text): http://www.loc.gov/disabilityawareness/profiles/langevin_speech.html
Jim Langevin Keynote (video): http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=4157