What Impact Does National Disability Employment Awareness Month Leave?

An individual in a wheelchair sits across the table from an able-bodied individual.

What Impact Does National Disability Employment Awareness Month Leave?

In case you haven’t heard yet, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “NDEAM celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities past and present, and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices.” But why is this so important?

People with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed than other populations. In 2021, 19.1% of people with disabilities were employed compared to 63.7% of people without disabilities. Despite a person’s education and skills, in the presence of a disability, they are more likely to be unemployed. A common explanation for this trend is accessibility barriers that exist in various fields of work and work environments. 

Understanding the present accommodations that lessen the burden of inaccessibility is the first step in identifying the impact that employees with disabilities leave. To shed some light on this, we talked to a few employees with disabilities who wanted to share their experiences. Nadira Bostic, a copywriter in the field of advertising, explained that “I use accessibility settings on my phone to take screenshots of web pages for my articles.” Additionally, Shelby, an employee at a psychiatry neuroimaging lab, told us “My lab has offered a microphone.” These comments reveal just two examples of navigating accommodations within the job. In Bostic’s case, her use of assistive technology is completed on her personal cellular device, whereas Vanvliet’s position offered assistive technology to be given to her.

Under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), reasonable accommodations are necessary to “enable an individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity not only to get a job but successfully perform their job tasks to the same extent as people without disabilities.” The U.S. Department of Labor lists applicable job accommodations to include accessible and assistive technologies. It is clear that employees with disabilities rely on the proper technologies and accommodations to be impactful within the workplace. 

The impacts of employees with disabilities can be demonstrated in numerous ways. We asked our interviewees the following question. Do you believe your disability has helped you become a better employee or has had any influence on your work? The responses we received provide insight into the unique experience of employees with disabilities that earns commemoration during NDEAM. 

  • Bostic said “My disability has made me more of an advocate for myself, though. For example, when talking with potential clients, I make sure to be upfront about the fact that I use a wheelchair and can’t travel for work to avoid any issues that could arise because I can only work remotely.” 
  • Vanvliet demonstrated her heightened connection to others in her statement as follows. “Given that my lab works a lot with senior citizens, my experiences as a disabled person allow me to relate to and advise seniors losing mobility in ways that my fellow young, but able-bodied colleagues cannot. I became a post-bacc trainee for the PI of the lab because he and his colleagues see potential in me to be able to go into the field of geriatric psychology from how I’ve connected with seniors through some of our intergenerational conversation projects.”
  • Taylor Heagler, an employee at a disability civil rights non-profit, said “I think people with or with[out] disabilities all contribute things to their communities [with] or without employment.”
  • Lastly, Dylan, a part-time store associate and experienced healthcare employee, stated “My [disability] is both a benefit and a hindrance at times. Yes, it has made me a better person. A much better worker. More caring, empathetic towards my patients and residents whom I care for. At the same time. It has prevented me from having jobs which are VERY good as the human resources department or managerial department immediately hone in on the aspect that I have a disability and may or may not be able to function in the job setting to the degree they require.”

As stated previously, NDEAM is an opportunity to highlight the experiences of employees with disabilities and the employment policies and practices that allow continued impacts to be made by those employees. While employees with disabilities present fresh perspectives and unique impacts on their respective career fields, it is vital to acknowledge the shortcomings that inhibit them. 

Heagler commented on major barriers that employees with disabilities face, stating that “It’s unfortunate that we have so many systematic barriers in place that prevent people from working. You shouldn’t have to choose between healthcare and a job.” Additionally, Clark stated “For me, I feel like I always have to act a certain way in order to hold a job or have the same opportunities as others. It truly puts a hamper on my capabilities and or potential on the jobsite by having to do this.” He adds his concern for accommodations being provided  “… for those people who have intellectual disabilities and or physical disabilities to give them the same life, the same chances and opportunities as our peers who do not have to deal with the struggles we face on a daily basis.” 

NDEAM is an important time to begin conversations about employees with disabilities. While these employees are capable of leaving significant impacts, it is up to the employer to provide the necessary support. The interviews included throughout this article demonstrate a handful of experiences, successes, failures and concerns surrounding the topic of employees with disabilities. The complete interviews are provided below.

Nadira Bostic

What field of work are you in?

I am a copywriter, and I work in advertising.

Do you have a full-time, part-time, or freelance job?

I have a freelance job.

Do you work from home or in-person?

I work from home.

Do accessibility issues affect your decision to work from home or not?

Accessibility issues affect my decision to work from home. I work from home because I can’t drive, and I don’t always have reliable, accessible transportation.

What technology do you use to complete your work?

I use Google Drive, Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, Asana, and Miro to complete my work.

Do you use any assistive technology?

I use accessibility settings on my phone to take screenshots of web pages for my articles.

To your knowledge, does anyone else at your company have a disability?

I don’t know anyone else at the companies I work for with a disability.

Do you believe your disability has helped you become a better worker or has had any influence on your work?

My disability doesn’t have much of an influence on my work. My work only requires that I can do research and type, which isn’t affected by my disability. My disability has made me more of an advocate for myself, though. For example, when talking with potential clients, I make sure to be upfront about the fact that I use a wheelchair and can’t travel for work to avoid any issues that could arise because I can only work remotely.

Shelby

What field of work are you in?

I work at a psychiatry neuroimaging lab.

Do you have a full-time, part-time, or freelance job?

Part-time, 20hrs a week while applying to grad programs.

Do you work from home or in-person?

I work remotely like a lot of my colleagues.

Do accessibility issues affect your decision to work from home or not?

Yes.

What technology do you use to complete your work?

Laptop—I’m in a part of the lab that designs studies, writes grants, works on miscellaneous coding for studies, ect.

Do you use any assistive technology?

Besides a wheelchair, I can’t really afford anything else. My lab has offered a microphone for whenever I do move to in person (they would like me to do a grad program in Pittsburgh so I could work in person at the lab).

To your knowledge, does anyone else at your company have a disability?

Yes, some colleagues have opened up to me about having a chronic illness.

Do you believe your disability has helped you become a better worker or has had any influence on your work?

Given that my lab works a lot with senior citizens, my experiences as a disabled person allow me to relate to and advise seniors losing mobility in ways that my fellow young, but able-bodied colleagues cannot. I became a post-bacc trainee for the PI of the lab because he and his colleagues see potential in me to be able to go into the field of geriatric psychology from how I’ve connected with seniors through some of our intergenerational conversation projects.

Taylor Heagler

What field of work are you in?

I started my career doing museum work, but now I work for a disability civil rights non-profit.

Do you have a full-time, part-time, or freelance job?

Full-time and do freelance gigs on the side.

Do you work from home or in-person?

Home, now but not in the past.

Do accessibility issues affect your decision to work from home or not?

I worked multiple years at places where I couldn’t use the restroom for 8 hours. At home work has been very helpful.

What technology do you use to complete your work?

Computer.

Do you use any assistive technology?

No.

To your knowledge, does anyone else at your company have a disability?

Oh yes! Multiple.

Do you believe your disability has helped you become a better worker or has had any influence on your work?

I think people with or with disabilities all contribute things to their communities which or without employment. It’s unfortunate that we have so many systematic barriers in place that prevent people from working. You shouldn’t have to choose between healthcare and a job.

Dylan

What field of work are you in?

Well, I am in two different fields at the moment. I have a part time job in retail as a store associate with PetsMart. It isn’t a bad job but it isn’t my personal choice or favorite. My second field is healthcare. I’ve had the opportunity to work in a few different hospitals. In Southern NJ and in Delaware. As a certified medical assistant, phlebotomist, ekg technician, and soon to be cna and chha, my career choice is an interesting one.

Do you have a full-time, part-time, or freelance job?

For now part time but soon full time once I have become a nurse.

Do you work from home or in-person?

In person. Hard to find an at home healthcare job.

Do accessibility issues affect your decision to work from home or not?

I have to say yes. My disability is Autism, so my main accessibility issue is driving. I cannot drive as I have very little to no experience when it comes to directions on the road, mapping skills. It is like a complete disconnect. So, in order for me to work, it has to be VERY much localized to within 1-5 miles of where I live. I rely primarily on my family to get me to and from interviews and jobs that are far from my location. But this isn’t fair for them because they are older individuals and have health problems of their own. If there was an easier way for someone with Autism to go to driving school and pass it then it would make a tremendous difference to many lives out there.

What technology do you use to complete your work?

Most of the time the technology at my jobsite, however, I have found my laptop to be useful at times as well.

Do you use any assistive technology?

Not assistive physically but in order to sometimes learn directional skills a bit better, then I have begun utilizing a gps system on my phone. Difficult but slowly I am getting better. I struggle at times with banking so it is a similar situation. Having my bank app really helps.

To your knowledge, does anyone else at your company have a disability?

I believe that one other individual does but I also believe her family helps her out.

Do you believe your disability has helped you become a better worker or has had any influence on your work?

That is a tricky question. My autism is both a benefit and a hindrance at times. Yes it has made me a better person. A much better worker. More caring, empathetic towards my patients and residents whom I care for. At the same time. It has prevented me from having jobs which are VERY good as the human resources department or managerial department immediately hone in on the aspect that I have a disability and may or may not be able to function in the job setting to the degree they require. Or they may take one glance at me and then dismiss me from the job opportunity in a heartbeat which has happened on multiple occasions. Where they were immediately ready to hand me the position, only to see that I am on medicare and then they inquire the reasoning. Which, if I may add, is against the law to inquire about any physical or intellectual disability that may or may not affect the chances of getting a job.

For me, I feel like I always have to act a certain way in order to hold a job or have the same opportunities as others. It truly puts a hamper on my capabilities and or potential on the jobsite by having to do this. Why should I have to pretend to be someone I’m in order to have even the slightest chance at gaining the opportunity of having a better future for myself? Not everyone with autism is affected as severely as others. With patients, an open mind and heart, anyone can improve. 

I am at the point of my life, the age of 28, where I am at a crossroads. Do I stick to retail or do I pursue healthcare as a registered nurse at a hospital that I have had success in? Difficult choices with difficult answers. But the biggest question of them all is this. What, as a country, is the United States Of America willing to do for those people who have intellectual disabilities and or physical disabilities to give them the same life, the same chances and opportunities as our peers who do not have to deal with the struggles we face on a daily basis? What can this country, as a whole, offer to us in order to help us strive forward in our lives to have a successful career for ourselves and our families?