As we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we honor the contributions, skills, and talents of people with disabilities as well as the important impact they have on our society.
This year’s theme, “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation,” recognizes people with disabilities need better employment opportunities and outcomes. According to the Census Bureau, disabled Americans make up 12% of the U.S. population, but face systemic access to independent, high-quality, work and unemployment.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. It prohibits discrimination and ensures equal employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. It also mandates equal access to government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation for disabled people. While complying with accessibility laws is a foundation, the federal government strives to move beyond basic compliance and can achieve true equity of experience for people with disabilities.
That means we all must be responsible for growing and maintaining an inclusive and barrier-free workplace, where disabled employees feel a sense of belonging – with the tools and agency needed to equally participate. When everyone has the opportunity to equitably contribute their skills and talents in federal service, we can achieve our mission and even exceed our goals.
Part of this effort includes expanding and diversifying our recruitment strategies to attract, advance, and retain people with disabilities in mission-critical occupations and at higher grade levels.
Additionally, not all disabilities are visible or immediately obvious. Therefore, we need to make sure all individuals with disabilities can bring their lived experiences to inform decision-making processes. This also means that leaders must support a culture of allyship and inclusion from the top down so people with disabilities are not the only advocates for positive change.
Although we’ve made significant progress since the ADA was enacted, this month is more than a celebration: it’s a call to action. We must continue advocating for policies that support people with disabilities. We cannot achieve full equity and inclusivity unless workplaces nationwide are also truly accessible.
Last year, GSA relaunched the agency’s Persons with Disabilities Special Emphasis Program (PWDSEP). It supports best practices to foster belonging and increases the agency-wide visibility for GSA employees with disabilities. We hope the words from GSA PWDSEP members inspire you and help you take what steps are needed to create more inclusive and equitable federal workplaces and communities, during this and every month of the year.
“This month means so much to me because we are paying tribute to the accomplishments of the people with disabilities whose work helps keep the nation’s economy strong and by reaffirming their commitment to ensure equal opportunity for all citizens. As a Deaf employee, I am proud of my accomplishments and the contributions I have brought to GSA. I know I have made many impacts on this agency. I have promised myself that I will continue to make an impact.” - Hayden Shock, FEDSIM
“This month is a special time of the year. The changing of the weather and the diversity of the tree leaves reminds me of nature’s beauty. That same beauty represented in the changing of the leaves makes me think of the diversity and beauty that resided in all Americans, especially Americans with Disabilities. We as Americans with Disabilities offer a wealth of education, skills, and knowledge. Just think of how dull the world would be if the leaves of the trees stayed one color. The world and the workplace is better because Americans with Disabilities help to enhance and color life.” -Zenas Dowdell, Region 4 PBS Office of the Chief of Staff