October 28 2021 National Disability Employment Awareness Month Skip to main content

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National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which is an opportunity for the US to recognize the vital role people with disabilities play in the workforce, kicked off earlier this month with the signing of a proclamation by President Joe Biden.  This year's theme, "America's Recovery: Powered by Inclusion," rings especially true as the COVID pandemic has shown that a lack of accessible information technology is a serious barrier to employment. Access Ready appreciates that the White House has an awareness of the challenges people with disabilities experience as members of the workforce: "Despite the progress our Nation has made in recent decades, people with disabilities are still too often marginalized and denied access to the American dream.  Americans with disabilities have faced long-standing gaps in employment, advancement, and income. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded these inequities, as people with disabilities have faced heightened risks — particularly the disproportionate share of people with disabilities employed in the hardest-hit industries.  Our Nation will never fully recover and rebuild unless every single community including Americans with disabilities is fully included. "Now we are "celebrating" another “October National Disability Employment Awareness Month” with great expectations. When the author who is blind entered the workforce in 1976 the unemployment rate of people with disabilities was 70%. Today it is still 70% on average. Since 1976 we have passed a myriad of laws designed to improve opportunities for people with disabilities. Yet the unemployment rate has not changed. Clearly throwing money in the same old ways is not working. To truly break down the barriers we need a different and supportive approach that enforces the use of the programs already in place. This is necessary to overcome what has become institutional biased at best and a non-traditional hate crime in the extreme. When Federal Purchasing Officers and Chief Information Officers (CIO) routinely circumvent Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act by purchasing inaccessible technologies. When vendors who invest in accessibility find that they can't sell it and are told by those same Federal Purchasing officers and CIO's make it clear that the vendor can file a protest, but then will never be considered for an award again. Yes these are anecdotal reports, but they come in more often than not. Congress and the state legislatures need to investigate the circumstances and seek out methods that prevent such actions. For instance Congress and the state legislatures could impose a condition that required an inspector General's review of all technology purchases over a certain amount that should be low enough to make government employees think twice before choosing inaccessibility. It is time to put teeth and penalties in place to enforce use of the billions of dollars in programs currently being thwarted by indifference.