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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Oct. 8, 2020

Stronger together: Appreciating contributions from people with disabilities

By By James Knight, Deputy Assistant Commandant for Acquisition 

For National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month, I thought it would be good to ask for your help raising disability awareness and sharing an appreciation of the contributions people with disabilities can bring to an organization.

Did you know that over 53 million adults live with a disability in America? That’s roughly 16% of people based on today’s population.

Did you also know that people with disabilities are unemployed at TWICE the rate of people without disabilities?

To help bring this topic closer to home and provoke interesting thought or conversations, I offer up a couple of items that can be reviewed at your leisure. If you find them helpful, please consider sharing them with your colleagues.

  • The first is a TED Talk, “I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much” by Stella Young. I believe this presentation will help provide some important perspective to understanding what it’s like living with a disability. Please feel free to forward this to your personal email to watch later.
  • Here is example from our own service. Theodore Bridis worked for the Coast Guard as a civil engineer. While at CEU Miami, he joined many other skilled and talented professionals to create safe facilities that enabled the Coast Guard to execute its mission. He was profiled by the publication “Out of Uniform” in 1994.  An excerpt has been saved and available for all to read at the following link.  This is one example of disabled Coast Guard members contributing to Coast Guard missions.

History of NDEAM
National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is an annual awareness campaign that takes place each October led by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) with the aim of raising awareness about disability employment issues. NDEAM also celebrates the contributions of workers with disabilities and educates employers about the value of a diverse workforce inclusive of their skills and talents. 

NDEAM’s roots go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” It didn’t take long for society to recognize non-physical disabilities, and so in 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. Roughly a quarter-century later, in 1988 Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.” The ODEP then assumed responsibility for NDEAM and has worked to expand its reach and scope ever since. NDEAM just celebrated its 75th year.  

Milestones in disability law

  • Many laws have been enacted to improve the employment outlook for persons with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here is a brief timeline of some of the milestones in disability law:
  • 1973: Rehabilitation Act prohibits any public institutions that receive federal funds to discriminate on the premise of disability. 
  • 1975: Education for All Handicapped Children Act requires public schools that accept federal funding to provide equal education and access to education for disabled children.
  • 1990: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees access to and prohibits discrimination against individuals with physical or mental disabilities. 
  • 2000: Executive Order from President Clinton requested the federal government to hire 100,000 people with disabilities over the next five years. 
  • 2001: Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is created within the Department of Labor.