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NDEAM: A Milestone Month in a Momentous Year

By Deputy Assistant Secretary Jennifer Sheehy at the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy


This year has been a banner one for those of us in the disability community — and really all Americans who believe in equality and inclusion. To start, in July we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Like other pieces of civil rights legislation that came before it, this law expanded our nation's founding ideal of equality for all by prohibiting discrimination against those of us with disabilities in all aspects of community life, including employment.

White text "My disability is one part of who I am. At work, it's what people can do that matters. National Disability Employment Awareness Month - Celebrating 70 Years!" Office of Disability Employment Policy logo and people with various disabilities.
Despite 25 years since the ADA's passage, however, the employment gap between Americans with and without disability remains unacceptable. As my boss, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, often says, “employment is the unfinished business of the ADA.” And as he also often says, we at the U.S. Department of Labor are committed to delivering on its promise, for not only today's workers with disabilities, but also future generations.

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.