October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Disability Employment Initiative , October 06, 2015

AUGUSTA - We are excited to observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month, or NDEAM. The purpose of NDEAM is to educate the public, and especially businesses, about disability employment issues while celebrating the many and varied contributions of America's workers with disabilities. NDEAM is important because in Maine about one in six residents has a disability, and we value everyone's abilities, including in our workforce.

NDEAM traces back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October of each year "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." In 1962, the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, the week was expanded to a month.

This year, NDEAM’s theme is "My Disability is One Part of Who I Am I.” Jennifer Sheehy, the federal acting assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, explained, "This year's theme encapsulates the important message that people with disabilities are just that - people. And like all people, we are the sum of many parts, including our work experiences. Disability is an important perspective we bring to the table, but, of course, it's not the only one."

Reflecting this year's theme, through its Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), the Central/ Western Maine Workforce Investment Board (CWMWIB), along with CareerCenters, the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation and others, will be engaging in a variety of activities to inform Maine citizens on disability employment issues and a commitment to an inclusive work culture.

“We are proud to be a part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month," said Jeffrey Sneddon, executive director of the CWMWIB. “We want to spread the important message that we value the state’s diverse workforce, including individuals with disabilities."

Disabilities are more common than you think. The US Census reports that one in five people have a disability, and as the population ages, that number is expected to grow. About 16 percent of Maine residents report having a disability. That’s a significant part of the population. Over half of those folks are working age, between 18 and 65 years old. But less than a third of Mainers with a disability are working, compared to over threequarters of the population without disabilities. In 2013, the unemployment rate for Maine workers without a disability was 6.9 percent, but for people with a disability in our state, the unemployment rate was a whopping 17.3 percent.

In 2013, the Maine Development Foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce released a joint report, Making Maine Work: Growing Maine’s Workforce, which called for strategies to expand Maine’s workforce. To make sure people with disabilities are part of that expanded labor pool, the Chamber’s Maine Business Leadership Network (Maine BLN) uses a business-to-business approach to promote the employment of people with disabilities. Businesses have a powerful role to play in improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

Employers and employees in all industries can learn more about how to participate in National Disability Employment Awareness Month and ways they can promote its messages - during October and throughout the year - by visiting

The Disability Employment Initiative urges local employers to support the campaign for disability employment by making a commitment to reflect the spirit of NDEAM in your recruitment, retention, and advancement efforts. Employers, please add your voice to the other businesses who know that at work, disability is only one part of who a person is, and it’s what people can do that matters.

This information is provided by the team members of the Disability Employment Initiative a federally funded project designed to help achieve positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities, provide outreach to the disability and employer communities, and to build collaborations that are mutually beneficial to people with disabilities, employers, and service providers. For more information on the DEI project, contact the Central Western Maine Workforce Investment Board or your local CareerCenter.

# # #