October marks the 75th observance of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With diversity and inclusion becoming a business imperative for many organizations, these twin anniversaries are opportunities to raise awareness about disability discrimination and acknowledge the many contributions of employees with disabilities. This year’s NDEAM theme is “Increasing Access and Opportunity.”
What is disability discrimination?
Three decades after the ADA was enacted disability discrimination is still prevalent in the workplace. In fiscal year 2019, disability discrimination accounted for 33.4% of all charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), second only to retaliation charges (53.8%).
Under the ADA, it’s unlawful to discriminate against an individual with a disability in all employment practices and activities, including recruiting, hiring, termination, pay, benefits, training, job assignments, promotions and lay-offs. The law also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. Organizations that violate the ADA can face serious fines, penalties, fees and reputational damage.
Disability discrimination can occur when an employer:
- Treats a qualified employee or applicant unfavorably because they have a disability.
- Fails to provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants and employees who need them to apply for a job, do a job, or enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.
- Discriminates against an employee who is associated with a disabled individual.
- Harasses or fails to stop the harassment of an employee on the basis of a disability.
What is the definition of disability?
Not everyone with a medical condition is protected from discrimination, according to the EEOC. To be protected under the ADA, a person must be qualified for the job and have a disability as defined by the law. A person can show that they have a disability in one of three ways:
- They have a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, learning, or operation of a major bodily function).
- They have a history of a disability (such as cancer that is in remission).
- They are subject to an adverse employment action and are believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if they do not have such an impairment).
Advancing disability inclusion
Regularly reviewing policies and practices to ensure they prevent disability discrimination and promote inclusion is a good way to foster a disability-friendly workplace. Other ways include:
- Establishing a disability Employee Resource Group (ERG) to offer employees an opportunity to connect and receive support from others with similar backgrounds or interests.
- Training supervisors on their responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations and foster an inclusive workplace culture.
- Training employees on the ADA, diversity and inclusion and preventing discrimination and harassment.
- Creating a NDEAM display in the workplace and on the organization’s website, intranet and social media to communicate what is being done to attract and retain qualified candidates with disabilities.
- Sponsoring a disability mentoring day to promote career development for students and job seekers with disabilities. The nationwide observance of Disability Mentoring Day is the third Wednesday of each October. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) offers information and resources.
This October is the 75th anniversary of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As organizations focus efforts on improving diversity and inclusion, these twin events present fresh opportunities to acknowledge the contributions of employees with disabilities and ensure that policies, training, recruiting and hiring and other practices address disability discrimination and promote a diverse, inclusive and accessible workplace for all employees.