In fact, at my agency, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)
, the ADA provides the foundation for all of our work. We work to increase the number and quality of employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We do this not through enforcement, but rather through the promotion of effective public policy and provision of technical assistance to employers, the workforce system and others essential to increasing access to employment and job training opportunities for people with disabilities. Thus, we work in collaboration with many partners, within the federal government and externally.
Our goal is to change the conversation about disability employment for the better by shifting the focus to the value people with disabilities add to America's workplaces. Held each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month
is a key part of this. The theme for this year — which is also a milestone, marking 70 years since NDEAM's first observance — is “My disability is one part of who I am.” To me, this theme encapsulates an important message: that people with disabilities are just that — people. And like all people, we are the sum of many parts, including our work experiences. For example, my experience with disability has enhanced my other management skills. Disability is an important perspective we bring to the table, but, of course, it's not the only one.
While ODEP leads NDEAM at the national level, its true spirit lies in the many creative events and activities that take place locally – at schools, businesses and centers for independent living like ECNV across the nation each year. There is something everyone can do. To help, ODEP offers a range of resources, including a poster
, sample materials and ideas
for how different types of organizations can get involved. This year, we have also developed an interactive timeline to help educate about the origins of NDEAM, the signing of the ADA and other important events in disability employment history.
That's because, as I said, 2015 has been a momentous year. But it's not over yet. During NDEAM, the celebration continues, as we recognize the many and diverse contributions of America's workers with disabilities — this month and every month.
Jennifer Sheehy is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy.