Happy 50th Anniversary NDEAM!! (National Disability Employment Awareness Month). In October of 1973, Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and NDEAM seeks to “Pay tribute to the accomplishments of the men and women with disabilities whose work helps keep the nation's economy strong and by reaffirming their commitment to ensure equal opportunity for all citizens”. It’s also the 33rd anniversary of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). As a result, the Department of Labor in conjunction with the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) have been celebrating all year long with various events such as Disability Pride Month in July.
As a nod to these two historical events, ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, the theme for NDEAM 2023 is: Advocating Access & Equality - Then Now And Next. I’m only 39, but I can honestly say that we have come a long way just in my lifetime of treating those of us with disabilities equally both in and out of the workplace and I am sure we have made even more strides since 1945 when the predecessor to NDEAM, National Employ The Handicapped Week, was first observed.
As a sportswriter, I can think of no better way to show this progress than with some stats. A former colleague of mine from the Department of Labor guided me to research and data dating back to 2008. I remember helping on a few of these projects as a new college graduate in 2008. I can’t believe it’s been 15 years.
Keep in mind when analyzing any kind of stats, whether sports or otherwise, a lot depends on how you look at things. I’m an optimist so I have mostly positive takeaways from these numbers. Your reaction may be different. To be considered employed a person must be non-institutionalized and earn an income in addition to any government support they may receive. The good news is Disability Employment has increased across the board from 2022. Labor Force Participation Rates have jumped from 37 to 41 percent and the unemployment rate among disabled workers has dropped from 8.2 to 7.9 percent during that same time period. By comparison, non-disabled individuals participate in the workforce at a 78 percent clip. We have a long way to go to close that gap, but at least it is closing.
Now for the not-so-good news. The wage gap between non-disabled and disabled workers, while better, is still very wide. As of 2022, the average full-time salary for an American worker was just over 52,000 dollars in annual earnings. Workers with disabilities in North Carolina brought home just over 23,000 dollars. The number is even lower for women with disabilities in the workforce at just over 19,000 dollars. There are only five states where workers with disabilities earn more than 30,000 dollars a year: Washington State, Washington DC, Maryland, Delaware and Alaska. DC has the highest earnings at around 36,000 annually. Maybe Gabe and I should move to Alaska where I could cover the Iditarod Race and Gabe could pull a sled. With his energy, I bet he could give those Huskies a run for their money.
In all seriousness, it is sad that in 2023 the wage gap between disabled and non-disabled workers is so wide. It’s great that more people with disability are working, but to see real equality in the workplace we need to see wage equality as well. I believe that every worker with a disability should be paid minimum wage as determined by their state. I am blessed to be paid above the federal minimum wage for my jobs, but I know that’s not always the case for other workers with disability. It stands to reason that if we provide the same goods or services as non-disabled workers, we should be paid the same wage.
So, while there is plenty to celebrate during NDEAM, and we should celebrate, workers, whether they are disabled or not, we need to realize that there is a long way to go before achieving workplace equality.