From U.S. Equal Employment Office Commission Chair Charlotte A. Burrows:
Each October, the nation commemorates National Disability Employment Awareness Month to recognize the many contributions of persons with disabilities to our country’s economy and workplaces. In 1988, Congress first declared National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an extension of a week that had been celebrated since 1945, to raise awareness of the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities.
Approximately 61 million -- 1 in 4 -- American adults have a disability according to the Center for Disease Control. From television stars to doctors to school teachers, workers with disabilities are an integral part of our nation’s workforce, and they are employed in industries and jobs that are just as diverse as they are.
Academic studies have shown that hiring persons with disabilities benefits not only those workers, but their employers as well, through increased profitability, competitive advantages, and an inclusive workplace for all workers. Yet, discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment remains a persistent challenge.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been on the forefront of protecting the rights of workers with disabilities since it began enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1992. Each year, we investigate thousands of charges of discrimination and recover millions of dollars for persons harmed by disability discrimination through our administrative process and litigation program. In fiscal year 2020, EEOC received over 20,000 charges alleging disability discrimination and recovered over $100 million dollars for employees or applicants with disabilities.
The tireless work of the EEOC against disability discrimination continues. In the past year, that work included, among other efforts:
- Providing ongoing technical assistance about Covid-19 and the Americans with Disabilities and Rehabilitation Act;
- Filing 40 new lawsuits, including systemic cases, alleging disability discrimination;
- Expanding direct video phone access and American Sign Language-fluent staff to better serve the Deaf and hard of hearing individuals;
- Resolving a class age and disability discrimination investigation against a healthcare provider to prevent unlawful medical examinations of older employees; and,
- Conducting the Commission’s first ever virtual hearing on the connections between Covid-19 pandemic and civil rights, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to set back progress toward inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace. In 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of persons with disabilities that were employed fell to 17.9% from 19.3% the year prior. Workers with disabilities are more likely to be working in occupations such as service, production, and transportation that were significantly impacted by the pandemic.
As employers reopen the nation’s workplaces, we must make sure that no one is left behind. This year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme, “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,” is particularly appropriate. An inclusive workplace is one where persons with disabilities are integrated into the workforce and paid fairly.
The EEOC celebrates the achievements and contributions of individuals with disabilities to our workforce. And we remain committed to ensuring that our workplaces are inclusive for all.