6 Ways to Celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month at Work [2023 Update]

diverse employee group meeting room

Honor employees with disabilities with these six NDEAM celebratory ideas, inspired by Thrive, ADP's disabilities-focused business resource group.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a federally designated period for recognizing the contributions of employees with disabilities. You likely manage employees who have seen and unseen disabilities, all of whom have unique experiences in the workforce. People with disabilities experience disability-related biases at work, have received fewer expressions of interest when disclosing their disabilities on well-qualified mock job applications and contend with a lack of physical accessibility and other accommodations in some workplaces. During NDEAM and beyond, making these and similar practices obsolete is critical.

"As we celebrate NDEAM, it's essential to recognize the contributions of people with disabilities in driving innovation and progress across all industries," says Giselle Mota, chief of product inclusion, ADP. Mota is also the external affairs lead for Thrive, ADP's disabilities-focused business resource group (BRG). "From smart traffic signals to intelligent assistants and more, countless technologies and advancements have been created and inspired by people with disabilities. By embracing accessibility, accommodations and diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), we can create more supportive workplaces and unlock the full potential of this talented and valuable group of workers. NDEAM reminds us to honor their contributions and renew our commitments to building fairer, more accessible workplaces for all."

What is National Disability Employment Awareness Month?

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), also known as "Disability Awareness Month" or "Disabilities Awareness Month," acknowledges, celebrates and commemorates the contributions of employees with disabilities. It also raises awareness of employment-related issues unique to people with disabilities. NDEAM was formalized by Congress in 1988 and is celebrated in October. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) selects the NDEAM theme, which, for 2023, is "Advancing Access and Equity."

What is the meaning or significance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month?

NDEAM traces back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week of October "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." The declaration was part of an organized effort to educate the public about issues related to disabilities and employment. In 1962, "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to NDEAM.

How do you celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month at work?

Celebrate NDEAM at work by learning the facts. The DOL maintains an NDEAM toolkit that may prove helpful to organizations looking to celebrate. Plan events with inclusion in mind. Seek expertise in DE&I, inclusive language and disability employment issues, including hiring and retention. Avoid pressuring employees, especially employees with disabilities, to plan and participate in NDEAM activities, and be kind, humble and diplomatic if you plan to ask. For some practical ways to recognize NDEAM, check out the list of ideas below, inspired by the activities of ADP's Thrive BRG:

6 ways to recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month at work

1. Discuss the importance of disability inclusion

Consider convening a panel of leaders, experts, employees with disabilities, caregivers and allies to discuss the importance of disability inclusion at work. Part of the "I" in DE&I, disability inclusion is defined as "including people with disabilities in everyday activities and encouraging them to have roles similar to their peers who do not have a disability." An expert-led panel is a prime opportunity to educate employees about disability inclusion and let employees with disabilities, caregivers and allies share their personal and professional experiences. Alternative discussion topics include disability-based discrimination in the workplace, seen and unseen disabilities, accommodations for employees with disabilities, self-identification, accessible technologies and neurodiversity.

Make your discussions as inclusive and accessible as possible by providing virtual attendance options, post-event recordings, alt-text in any images used, video captions, sign language interpreters and verbalized, self-descriptive speaker introductions — for example, "I am a man with black hair, brown eyes and glasses. I am currently in my office." Additionally, avoid blinking or flashing elements, as they may affect people who are photosensitive.

2. Feature a speaker or performer with a disability

Inviting a speaker or performer to share their personal disability story or creative work can generate employee interest in NDEAM and demonstrate that disabilities can be a part of anyone's life, regardless of their profession or background. During a previous NDEAM, Thrive featured jazz and soul vocalist Chantae Cann, who performed a selection of her songs and discussed her experience with Huntington's disease (HD). Thrive has also hosted Lachi, a singer and DE&I advocate who is blind. Likewise, consider researching speakers and performers with disabilities and asking them to contribute to your celebration.

3. Host a disability awareness and etiquette session

Disability awareness and etiquette sessions can help employees increase their understanding of people with disabilities, uncover their misconceptions and biases and learn specific strategies for interacting with people with disabilities. Consider partnering with an expert in disabilities to inform the session and provide best practices and next steps. For example, during a previous NDEAM, Thrive partnered with the National Organization on Disability (NOD) to present an internal awareness and etiquette session. Assumptions about people with disabilities and inclusive hiring were among the topics discussed. Consider exploring the resources and expertise available to you and whether this type of session would benefit your employees.

4. Review your hiring process

Job descriptions, interview questions and hiring practices that use inclusive language and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are critical to improving disability inclusion, accessibility and employment outcomes. What better time to initiate a review than during NDEAM? For example, if a job description requires the ability to lift 25 pounds or the ability to walk, sit and stand for long periods, consider whether these requirements are necessary for the position. If they are, consider replacing them with inclusive alternatives. To develop inclusive interview questions, learn more about ways to eliminate disability biases during interviewing and consult ADA-compliant interviewing guidance. Remember that the ADA prohibits medical inquiries and asking disability-related questions before a job offer is made except in specific circumstances. Also, explore ways to improve digital accessibility, given that many hiring tasks now occur online.

"Accessible hiring practices are often overlooked," says Kelsey Hall, head of accessibility, ADP. "We can start by offering reasonable accommodations, such as accessible interview locations and appropriate communication supports, to ensure candidates with disabilities can adequately showcase their skills. We can also use inclusive language in interview questions, job descriptions, recruitment marketing collateral and other hiring materials, as well as offer accessible documents and website experiences, which are easier for candidates with disabilities to navigate and understand. Finally, providing accessibility training to hiring teams can raise awareness of candidates with disabilities' needs. Using these practices, we can help ensure that candidates with disabilities have equal employment opportunities while tapping into this still-untapped talent market."

5. Establish or join a business resource group

A BRG focused on disability DE&I can become your organization's go-to space for employees with disabilities, caregivers and allies, allowing them to network, learn from each other, access educational resources, plan events and effect change. The BRG can be driven and led by these three groups, giving you a direct line to people with relevant lived experiences who can inform your disability inclusion initiatives. At ADP, Thrive is home to associates with disabilities, caregiving responsibilities and associates passionate about creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. During NDEAM, Thrive partners with ADP's DE&I office to host events that empower associates to effect positive change at work and in their communities. For more on this topic, read Promoting Diversity and Inclusion Through Allyship.

6. Use data to commit to employees with disabilities year-round

Supporting employees with disabilities should be an organizational priority beyond NDEAM. Look to your people data to make your disability inclusion initiatives trackable and measurable year-round. Refer to DE&I-related metrics, such as those for disability status and pay equity. These can be starting points for continually setting hiring goals, closing pay gaps and informing inclusion and retention efforts. If you don't have access to this data but would like to, look for a people analytics capability with these metrics built in. Benchmarking your organization's DE&I-related data against your peers is also essential to determine how you're doing in context.

"People with disabilities' potential often goes untapped and unnoticed. We know that a significant portion of the workforce has or will acquire a disability as they age or experience temporary disabilities throughout life. As leaders, we can use our people data to create workplace experiences that enable everyone to thrive, disability or not," Mota says. "Data can come from various sources, including people analytics, engagement survey results, user experience (UX) testing and focus groups. Using this data, you can assess, plan, act on and measure your progress. Without data, you might be focusing on the wrong things, lagging behind the market and, in turn, hurting your chances of success."

Visit ADP's DE&I Resource Hub for more on how your organization can do and be its best.

Thrive's NDEAM 2023 statement

National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a time for supporting employees with disabilities, whose diligence and adaptability know no bounds. In 2022, approximately 7.6 million people with at least one disability were employed in the labor market. During October and beyond, join us in honoring their contributions to the workforce and economy by identifying disability stigma and discrimination and working toward an inclusive, equitable future for people with all disability types.

About Thrive

As ADP's disabilities-focused BRG, Thrive seeks to understand the diverse impact of disabilities, end disability-related stigma and bring awareness and education to ADP associates about people living with disabilities.