October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the purpose of which 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.

In Maine, about one in six residents has a disability, and we value everyone’s abilities, including in our workforce.

Congress enacted a law in 1945 declaring the first week in October of each year to be 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, the month’s theme is “My Disability is One Part of Who I Am I.”

“This year’s theme encapsulates the important message that people with disabilities are just that — people,” says Jennifer Sheehy, federal acting assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. “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.”

Through its Disability Employment Initiative, the Central/ Western Maine Workforce Investment Board, along with CareerCenters, the Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation and others, will engage in a variety of activities to tell Maine residents about disability employment issues and a commitment to an inclusive work culture.


Disabilities are more common than most people think. The U.S. Census reports that one in five people has a disability, and as the population ages, that number is expected to grow. About 16 percent of Maine residents report having a disability, a significant part of our population. More than half of those folks are working age, between 18 and 65 years old, but less than a third them are working, compared to more than three-quarters 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 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 www.dol.gov/ndeam.

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

Eileen H. Miazga is disability resource coordinator of the Disability Employment Initiative, Central Western Maine Workforce Investment Board. Disability Employment Initiative a federally funded project designed to help achieve positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

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