Imagine walking into a job interview and knowing your chances of getting the position are low because of something you have no control over and can never change. This is the reality for many Americans with disabilities trying to find gainful employment.
Everyone should have the same opportunity to seek employment and provide for themselves and their family – period. That’s why every October we recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) to raise awareness for those with disabilities and highlight the unique skills and talents they have to offer as employees.
This year, the theme for NDEMA is “Inclusion Drives Innovation.”
NDEMA was approved by Congress on August 11, 1945 in an effort to encourage Americans with disabilities to seek employment. But during that time, there was still discrimination against workers with disabilities in the workplace, schools, and in public transportation – until 1990.
The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act was signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. According to the ADA website, the act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
While the ADA provided people with disabilities protection against discrimination in all walks of life – we still see low numbers in employment rates for those with disabilities. In 2016, 27 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities were employed.
At the University of Iowa, the Realizing Educational and Career Hopes (REACH) program offers a two-year program to students with disabilities to learn skills that will translate into the workforce when they graduate. Michael Petkewec, REACH program specialist, said the entire ciurriculum their students learn is life skills based
“For Career and transition specifically we are helping students with all aspects of the workforce to “get a job, keep and job, and not just train for a job,” Petkewec said. “Tangentially, they learn skills for life such as self-confidence, financial management, personal safety, and personal organization which can all help them in their careers in the workforce.”
The national rate of employment rate for Americans with disabilities is 18 percent. For REACH students, the two year post education employment rate is 81 percent. A testament to the benefits of giving those with disabilities a chance to succeed in the workforce.