October is an exciting month with amazing new opportunities for anyone with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, attention hyperactivity disorder, or emotional issues (anxiety, depression, panic attacks, etc.) because it is the National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Unfortunately, as a support group facilitator, counselor, and private school director for over 20 years, I discovered that the word “awareness” was not strong enough for my students to understand the importance of this federal program and I renamed it for them the National Disability Employment Action Month. All of my students agreed that the word “action” was an appropriate modification to the name National Disability Employment Awareness Month. After all, it was the action of a group of dedicated members of the business and disabilities communities* that worked relentlessly from February 19, 2008 until September 25, 2008 when President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act into law.
While the definition of disability as “an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” did not change from the original Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the ADA amendments act of 2008 applied the term to a greater number and types of persons who are protected under Federal disability nondiscrimination laws.When I used to discuss the ADA’s definition of disability with my students, their response to what they understood to be “major life activities” usually included being in a wheelchair, having no arms, or needing a guide dog.
To my students’ surprise, the ADA amendments of 2008 included as “major life activities” caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working and major bodily functions, including, but not limited to, functions of the immune system; normal cell growth; and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. All of my students with dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and emotional or psychological challenges felt that they qualified for the Americans with Disabilities Act and consequently wondered how this could affect their college or university experience and employment opportunities.
Below are the most important guidelines that I provide for my students:
- The first step for a successful academic and employment experience is recognizing that one is dealing with a disability. Anyone who struggles in an academic or job environment can consult with a medical professional, family doctor, or other health care provider and ask to be evaluated for a disability. The most difficult disabilities to recognize usually include emotional disabilities (anxiety, stress disorder, panic attacks, bipolar, depression, more).
- As part of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2012, the United States Department of Labor provides a list of topics including academic accommodations, apprenticeships, employment, health care, housing, and much more. Most academic environments or employers will provide a Disability Verification form. While some Disability Verification forms vary slightly, the forms are generally confidential and easy to fill out as shown in one example form.
- Once an academic or job environment receives a Disability Verification form (which contains a section that must be completed by a physician or other appropriate professional), the Federal ADA program, schools, and employers can offer help and assistance to students and workers in the form of funding, financial support, scholarships, grants, academic support, test accommodations, career planning, internships, employment preparations, and employment help.
- During the month of October, the United States Department of Labor conducts a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers and students with disabilities. This year’s theme is “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?”
- Because of the U.S. Department of Labor’s call for action, employers, employees, educators, youth service professionals, associations, unions, and other Federal agencies come together throughout the month of October to hire individuals with disabilities.
- Participating in the National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a major stepping stone in finding successful employment. For anyone who does not know where to begin, simply copy the phrase “San Diego National Disability Employment Awareness Month” into an internet search engine. Replace the city (San Diego) with the name of your city. Most search engines will not only provide a list of participating agencies but also a list of jobs. The above example resulted in “San Diego National Disability Employment Awareness Month Jobs. More than 350 National Disability Employment Awareness Month Jobs meet your search criteria in San Diego.”
Since Congress changed the name from its original “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week” (from 1945) to “National Employ the Handicapped Week” (in 1962) to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” in 1988, many of my students asked “If the program has evolved so much and there is so much information, help, and assistance out there, why do so many students and people looking for a job suffer so needlessly?”
It takes awareness and action.
Disability.gov: Disability.gov is managed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in collaboration with 21 federal agency partners.Disability.gov is the federal government website for comprehensive information for students, non-students, veterans, and families on disability programs and services in communities nationwide. The site links to more than 14,000 resources from federal, state and local government agencies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations. The site provides answers to questions about everything from Social Security benefits to employment to affordable and accessible housing.
Civil Rights of Students: To receive more information about the civil rights of students with disabilities in educational institutions, my students read the pamphlet “Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities” provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
Department of Rehabilitation: Simultaneously to planning their postsecondary education, my students also learned about DOR, the Department of Rehabilitation. The California Department of Rehabilitation’s goal is “to provide services and advocacy resulting in employment, independent living and equality for individuals with disabilities.” The DOR’s Consumer Information Handbook describes the specific steps for anyone ages 18 or older on how to find successful employment.
U.S. Department of Education: Office for Civil Rights (OCR): The FAQ section covers important topics in regard to serving students with disabilities and funding opportunities.
U.S. Department of Justice: The Americans with Disabilities Act Home Page is a treasure of information and includes Federal Agencies with ADA Responsibilities (Employment, Public Transportation, Education, Health Care, Labor, Housing, Parks and Recreation),
Settlement Resolutions: The U.S. Department of Justice “What’s New to ADA.gov” webpage lists the most recent court cases and settlement resolutions for students and workers protected under the ADA law.
Too much paperwork?: My former students informed me that once they filled out their Disability Verification form and were accepted by their university’s Student Disability Services (SDS), their assigned counselor coordinated and guided them through all OCR and DOR offered services. They received individualized assistance for every step throughout their academic and employment career.
* The American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Council on Independent Living, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the National Disabilities Rights Network, the Epilepsy Foundation, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Society for Human Resource Management, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the HR Policy Association