National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Heather Watkins

Berkshire Bank
3 min readOct 18, 2020


Written by Heather Watkins, Disability Rights Advocate
October 2, 2020

light-complected Black woman shown shoulders up wearing hair in bun atop her head, blue button earrings, makeup with red lipstick and smiling. She is wearing olive-colored blazer and blue and white patterned blouse with long necklace of various blue-colored pendants

Each October marks the month-long celebration recognizing disabled employees’ contributions known as “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” (NDEAM). This year NDEAM marks a milestone observing the 75th anniversary as well as the 30th anniversary of the “Americans with Disabilities Act” (ADA).

NDEAM origins date back to 1945 when Congress declared the first week in October initially called “Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Almost two decades later in 1962, the word “physically” was removed to be inclusive of all disabled employees not just limited to mobility and/or apparent disabilities but employees with disabilities of all kinds. In 1988, the observance later evolved to a month-long awareness and the name was changed to what we now recognize today.

It’s estimated that 1 out of 4 people have a disability, roughly 25% of the population with about 60 million people here in the US and nearly 1 billion globally have some form of disability. Disabilities are acquired by birth, accident, illness, and can be age-related. They can be apparent, non-apparent or “hidden” and include chronic illness.

Disability is beyond the prism of limitations lens only; disabled persons have lived experience and skill sets that may often be undervalued and overshadowed. NDEAM is an acknowledgement of disabled employees’ input as well as emphasizes the importance of inclusive hiring practices for employers.

Many disabled persons often have higher sensitivity levels, are very detail-oriented and out-of-the-box thinkers, have adaptive and analytical skills, know logistics and work-arounds, may be well-versed at creating contingency plans and can be quite inventive particularly because mainstream molds aren’t always accessible. These are transferable skills that are applicable to many settings. Event committees, planning boards, and your organization need to be well-stocked with a diverse array of talented employees including disabled persons who can bring much to the table!

More considerations for widening the pool of candidacy is that long before the pandemic many disabled persons have long been accustomed to working and organizing remotely through online engagement and platforms. Also, disabled persons may not always have a streamlined work history due to health/self-care balance and regulations that may restrict the amount of employment hours that could impact benefits. Resumes might have gaps filled by factors that shaped and sharpened the lens and lived experience of a disabled candidate that carryover and should merit attention and seriously matter. These are important considerations to bear in mind as we shine the light on disability employment this month and well beyond!

Heather Watkins is a disability rights advocate, serving as a member of a handful of disability-related boards for organizations such as, Disability Policy Consortium, Open Door Arts, and the National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities. Heather also served as a special guest on our Coffee Talk on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

NDEA Month Additional Resources

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