October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). You may ask why we need a month to discuss and focus on the employment of folks with disabilities? History has not been kind to people with disabilities. They have been subject to genocide, institutionalization, sterilization, segregation, medicalization, and ostracization. Ableism – the root of disability oppression – is so entrenched in our society that it permeates everything, including the employment of people with disabilities.
Only sweeping civil rights legislation could combat such rampant discrimination. In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title I of the ADA guarantees the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace, including the right to reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation gives an employee or job applicant with a disability the tools and support they need to succeed in their employment.
For example, a reasonable accommodation might request a change to the work environment. Fluorescent bulbs are often used in office settings because they produce even lighting over large areas. They also emit a humming sound and flicker at a fast rate. Most folks do not notice these characteristics; however, for someone with attention deficit or sensitivity to light, they can be distracting, painful, and may ultimately detract from the ability to work. In this example, a reasonable accommodation request to replace the fluorescent light with a quieter and more consistent halogen lamp makes success in the workplace possible!
Most accommodations are inexpensive, and employers should regard them as investments in their workforce. Providing employees with the tools and supports they need, regardless of ability level, is just good business. When employees succeed, businesses succeed!
Folks with disabilities have been adapting to a world not built for them for thousands of years. Through our advocacy and collaboration with community members, the Minnesota Council on Disability is working to flip this view on its head: a reasonable accommodation adapts a portion of the world to the needs of people with disabilities.