Historically, people with disabilities have been underemployed or unemployed at significantly higher rates than other working age adults. In 1945, to help begin raising public consciousness of the unique skills and abilities of this untapped talent pool, the United States established an annual "National Physical Disability Employment Awareness Week." The celebration was expanded by Congress in 1988 to the entire month of October and renamed "National Disability Employment Awareness Month" (NDEAM) to emphasize the contributions of people with all disabilities, not just physical ones. This year’s theme is "Talent Has No Boundaries: Workforce Diversity Includes People with Disabilities."
In a guest blog in the Disability Blog (link resides outside of ibm.com), Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathleen Martinez, outlines some of the new programs being implemented by the U.S. federal government for people with disabilities. "These new initiatives are incredible opportunities for jobseekers with disabilities, opening up thousands of jobs to qualified workers," she said.
Helping to raise awareness and support these and other employment initiatives within private sector are organizations like the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN®), which represents over 5,000 employers via 60+ national Network affiliates. USBLN is an employer-to-employer disability group dedicated to helping build workplaces, marketplaces, and supply chains where people with disabilities are respected for their talents.
This year, the USBLN annual conference was held September 19-22 in Chicago, Illinois, and brought together more than 500 corporate, government, and disability-owned businesses and affiliates. Together, USBLN members and stakeholders shared best practices to support the recruitment, hiring and retention of people with disabilities, and recognized members for outstanding contributions in promoting disability diversity across the enterprise.
The USBLN 2010 Annual Leadership Awards highlighted employer achievements in seven categories, including supplier diversity and market share. IBM was among those honored, receiving the "Employee Resource Group (ERG) of the Year" award for exemplary strategies to advance disability inclusiveness in the workplace, marketplace and supply chain. Frances West, worldwide director, IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center, accepted the award from Beth Butler, USBLN Chair and vice president of employment compliance for Wachovia Corporation.
The USBLN ERG of the Year award is one of more than three dozen international awards received by IBM since 1999 for its commitment to accessibility innovation and employment of people with disabilities.
IBM hired its first employee with a disability in 1914, 76 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since that time, IBM has embraced the accessibility of information technology for the workplace and marketplace as a diversity initiative and has been consistently recognized for its leadership in the employment and accommodation of people with disabilities. A number of first-of-a-kind technology innovations that transformed the assistive technology landscape and provided people with disabilities with unprecedented access to technology, resulted from IBM’s early and often pioneering efforts. Among these innovations were the first Braille printer (1975), a talking typewriter for people who are blind (1980) and a talking display terminal (1981).