By Merrill Friedman, Sr. Director, Disability Policy Engagement, Anthem, Inc.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Every year NDEAM is observed in federal and private sector offices to recognize the contribution that individuals with disabilities make in the workplace as well as to yearly renew the promise to keep the American work experience inclusive of all people. NDEAM was first celebrated in 1945 when the first week in October was declared as National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. As the recognition has evolved to a full month, NDEAM speaks to a very important American value — that each American feels they have the opportunity, and that it is part of their responsibility and privilege as a citizen, to work and contribute to their community, to their families, and to support our economy. The inclusion of Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) in the recognition adds another important facet to NDEAM – the need to identify talent and invest in an inclusive workforce and workplace. DMD seeks to form a greater connection between individuals with disabilities and the world of work by exposing people with disabilities to new possibilities for employment, exciting career‐tracks and future educational opportunities. Originally designed for students, DMD allows employers to connect with people with disabilities inside and outside of their companies, while at the same time providing opportunity for individuals with disabilities to gain a first‐hand look at careers they are interested in pursuing with experienced mentors in the field. In keeping with NDEAM, DMD programs also educate employers on how to make the workplace a more inclusive environment, and allows current employees with and without disabilities to shine as mentors for mentees with disabilities.
This year, the theme for National Disability Employment Awareness Month is, “Inclusion Drives Innovation.” Disability has historically been the catalyst for the development of technologies and approaches that not only support people with disabilities, but are beneficial to all people. The use of curb cuts, the telephone, text messaging, closed captioning, and voice to text, are some of the technologies that were developed specifically for individuals with disabilities whose use have become commonplace and beneficial for everyone. Additionally individuals with disabilities have also influenced innovation through developing technologies such as the current buzz around driverless automobiles and the ability to enhance personalization on gaming platforms, operating systems and websites.
The NDEAM theme is also a reminder that the participation of individuals with disabilities at work is not a form of charity or good will, rather it represents equality, access to competitive integrated employment, and an investment in people’s futures and our path to success. Even if you are not aware, it is likely that you are already working with individuals with disabilities because just over 1 in 4 Americans will become disabled before they retire and disability crosses all ages, ethnicities and socio-economic groups. Disability is a normal part of life and aging that many of us will have to address if we have not done so already. At Anthem, we work with the disability communities not only as beneficiaries, but as colleagues, friends and critical stakeholders. A mainstay in our approach to being inclusive of individuals with disabilities is to gather input from a vast array of stakeholders including the National Advisory Board (NAB) on Improving Health Care Services for Older Adults and People with Disabilities; we have incorporated the NAB’s Six Foundational Principles throughout Anthem values, programs and practices.
Anthem strives to create an environment for associates that is inclusive and values the contributions of everyone. Every October for the past eleven years, Anthem holds recognition events for NDEAM and DMD that not only communicate the value of disability inclusion to those who might be seeking employment, but also recognizes the work of current associates with disabilities.
We hope that you will join us in recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) beyond the month of October, by helping to create a workplace that respects the contributions of individuals with disabilities and is inclusive of all. By working together we can ensure that people with disabilities are included in the workplace – providing access to the economic mainstream, and continuing to build a community where all of us are involved and contribute.
For specific ideas about how you can support National Disability Employment Awareness Month, visit the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s Website at www.dol.gov/ndeam. Suggestions range from simple, such as putting up a poster, to comprehensive, such as implementing a disability education program. Regardless, all play an important part in fostering a more inclusive workforce, one where every person is recognized for his or her abilities — every day of every month.