Supported employment professionals are well aware that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). But is this observance a good idea?

PRO — On the one hand, as a former newspaper reporter, the author of this blog has enjoyed pointing out to non-media savvy supported employment professionals that observances like this one are important “hooks” for the media. In other words, this tie-in makes October an ideal time for supported employment agencies to approach local media to write (or broadcast) a story about the need to employ people with disabilities – basically, as the name implies, “to increase AWARENESS.”

PRO — A bit of history: NDEAM’s roots go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.” In 2001, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)  assumed responsibility for NDEAM and has worked to expand its reach and scope ever since. Part of ODEP’s efforts include coming up with a theme – which this year is Profit by Investing in Workers with Disabilities – and a poster to aid in promotional efforts. (See the graphic at upper left).

CON — On the other hand, some see this observance, as little more than a patronizing reminder to employ those “poor individuals with disabiities” out of charity or some vague mutual benefit, rather than simply due to the individual’s competence to do the job. Here are a few brief thoughts from the president of a nonprofit dedicated to improving the employment success of people with disabilities: “The Hire the Handicapped marketing slogans of the 1960s and 1970s suggested that charity, rather than job seeker competence, would be a chief reason that employers might want to hire people with disabilities. … Although this approach has been widely discredited in recent decades, it is still common to see current appeals to employers that include only slightly more sophisticated messages.”

What do YOU think? Is this observance a good idea – and does it work? Or, does NDEAM patronize persons with disabilities? Or perhaps the truth is something in between? Comments are welcome.