October is Disability Employment Awareness Month: Inclusion drives innovation

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is celebrated each October. Here are some ideas for year-round promotion.

According to the United States Department of Labor, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The purpose of National Disability Employment Awareness Month “is to educate people about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of workers with disabilities.” Inclusion drives innovation is the theme for 2017.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H support and work to provide inclusive programming that serves audiences and individuals with a variety of skills, abilities, personalities, experiences and backgrounds. We all benefit from these combined qualities and perspectives when we all learn and work together.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy encourages individuals and businesses to not just focus awareness efforts during October, but deliberately promote a disability-friendly workplace year-round. We can all benefit from this enriching experience and work environment.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy suggests the following 10 ways to foster the National Disability Employment Awareness Month spirit year-round.

  1. Gather ideas from your corporate Disability Employee Resource Group. If you do not have one, maybe you should consider starting one. An Employee Resource Group can help identify resources and “serve as a talent pipeline by referring qualified job seekers with disabilities to your organization.”
  2. Hold a National Disability Employment Awareness Month event in October. There are a number of tools and planning resources to assist you in your efforts and you can tie into the annual theme.
  3. Host a disability mentoring day. You can promote career development through hands-on activities, become involved in job shadowing or serving as a mentor.
  4. Sponsor a "Lunch and Learn" series about disability issues. You pick the frequency; it could be monthly or weekly, or whatever works. You then invite employees to come learn about a range of disability-related subjects.
  5. Provide volunteer opportunities to your employees. Volunteering fosters team engagement, leadership development and more. Staging mock-interviews,resumes or simply helping individuals with disabilities prepare for the world of work is a positive experience and provides networking as well.
  6. Display posters promoting disability inclusion. Have you seen the posters available for National Disability Employment Awareness Month? Check them out and put them to good use in your organization.
  7. Offer American Sign Language training classes to your employees. If you provide staff development, such classes are fun and teach employees new skills.  
  8. Interview students with disabilities during campus recruiting trips. Meeting with college juniors and seniors with disabilities is a great way to build a pipeline of talented job candidates for your organization.
  9. Host a “disability 101” event for employees. The Job Accommodation Network has free resources to help teach “staff members with hiring and managerial responsibilities about issues related to applicants and employees with disabilities.”
  10. Incorporate disability into your onboarding processes. It is a perfect time to “educate new employees on your company's policies and practices related to disability inclusion.”

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth career preparation, money management, and entrepreneurship programs, read the 2016 Impact Report: “Preparing Michigan Youth for Future Employment.”

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