Make a Difference: It’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month!

By Lynnette Henderson

Lynnette Henderson, Ph.D., serves the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center as the research registry and recruitment coordinator for the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center. In her role as associate director of community services for the VKC University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, Lynnette leads the employment area of emphasis for the UCEDD and analyzed the 2013-2014 National Core Indicators data for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. She also served as program co-chair of the Tennessee Disability MegaConference for four years.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and although we have made great strides in hiring people with disabilities since that first National Disability Employment Awareness Month in 1945, there is still a need for awareness.

In 1945, the focus was on physical disabilities, and many of those with physical disabilities were returning veterans of World War II. Now the month has broadened to include all disabilities, but ironically, there is still a need to remind employers of the advantages of having veterans with disabilities in their workplaces.

While TennesseeWorks has mostly focused on prioritizing employment as the preferred option for youth and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in our outreach to employers and the community, we’ve deliberately been more inclusive to highlight the talents of all people with disabilities. We know that this is what it will take to meet the diverse workforce needs of our state.

Tennessee is very fortunate right now. Unemployment is low in many counties, with high demand for quality workers to fill the need. This creates a need in the workforce for non-traditional workers, which workers with disabilities are for now. By filling the workforce needs of businesses and providing an excellent answer to this worker shortage, employees with disabilities can help normalize the hiring of others with disabilities.

During this month, do your part to call attention to the talents and high quality of workers with disabilities by participating in our #HireMyStrengths Campaign, by sharing success stories from our website and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ website, https://www.tn.gov/didd/article/employment-first-stories. Or let Matthew Parriott (Matthew.Parriott@tn.gov) know about your local success stories, if you are a person with a disability who is employed or if you know someone who is.

Check out the many events that are occurring this month and attend one or several. If you are an employer, mentor a person with a disability on Disability Mentoring Day, or sponsor a table at a local luncheon or breakfast, which are happening across the state in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Nashville. If you are a community rehabilitation provider, it is time to network by attending those events as well as Tennessee Community Organizations’ Employment Conference on October 25-26. In addition, let your clients know that Goodwill is having Job Fairs and Vocational Rehabilitation’s Tennessee Rehabilitation Centers are having open houses all month. Check the TennesseeWorks Calendar for events.

Make sure that everyone you know is aware of your interest in and commitment to the success of people with disabilities in the workplace. This is not a new idea, it is a timely idea that is right for the circumstances. There has never been a time when the business community has needed the talents of people with disabilities in the workforce more or has been better equipped to meet their needs with a minimal degree of expense and trouble. Take the Challenge of National Disability Employment Awareness Month to make some connections to make a difference this October.  You’ll be glad you did!

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