Their Voice: October recognizes the Americans with Disabilities Act

September 30, 2018

Monica Villar

I recently attended a conference that held a panel discussion with four individuals.

These four people ranged in gender, age and background with one commonality: they each had a mental or developmental disability or both.

When asked about some of the struggles they encounter in becoming independent, productive adults, there was one that they each shared. Finding and keeping a job was difficult because having a disability would require that they receive certain accommodations in order to be successful. However, they all agreed that there was a strong fear to disclose their disability because they might not get hired.

People with disabilities have the right to have competitive employment. It is clearly written in the Americans with Disabilities Act that was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Federally, this campaign is supported and monitored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). On a state level, Utah has also implemented the “Employment First Initiative” toward that goal. It was interesting to me that the four panelists previously mentioned were very much aware of the provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act but all agreed that currently most employers only understand what it means for those with physical disabilities.

Every October, a light is shined on the efforts to employ people with all disabilities, through the National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“By fostering a culture that embraces individual differences, including disabilities, businesses profit by having a wider variety of tools to confront challenges,” said Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. “Our nation’s most successful companies proudly make inclusion a core value. They know that inclusion works. It works for workers, it works for employers, it works for opportunity, and it works for innovation.” The theme of 2018’s official National Disability Employment Awareness Month is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.”

For us in Utah County, empowering all should not be that difficult. With an unemployment rate of 3.10 percent in July of this year there should be a lot of opportunities for competitive employment for people with without disabilities.

Creating ways for people with a variety of disabilities to be able to find work and have the accommodations that allow them to maintain that work should be the goal of the community and not just the wish of advocates, family members and friends.

The four individuals and many others like them are in a holding pattern. They are being encouraged to find work, but only the ones who are aware of resources are successful in finding it and keeping it.

There are many ways to create a winning situation for both the employees and employers if we start to think in more creative ways. This should be what we continue to strive for as a community of full inclusion.

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