Observed annually each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) celebrates America’s workers with disabilities both past and present, and emphasizes the importance of inclusive policies and practices to ensure that all Americans who want to work can work, and have access to services and supports to enable them to do so.

The theme for the 2019 NDEAM was “The Right Talent, Right Now”.

The return of service members with disabilities from World War II sparked public support and interest for people with disabilities in the workplace. In 1945, President Harry S. Truman approved a Congressional resolution declaring the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Congress expanded the week observance to a month in 1988 and changed it to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month”.

Check out the timeline of disability and employment in the United States to learn more.

The diversity of disability

Disability is defined as “being incapacitated by illness or injury” or “physically or mentally impaired in a way that substantially limits activity especially in relation to employment or education.”

We all may experience a disability in our lifetime, especially as we age. About 1 in 5 Americans have some type of disability, and 10% of Washingtonians have a disability that limits their mobility.

Disabilities affect every race, culture, sexual orientation, income, and gender. Having a disability is just one part of the diversity of being human.

It’s obvious when someone has a disability, right?

Wrong! It’s important to remember that not all disabilities are visible. In fact, 63% of people who live with a severe disability do not use devices like a wheelchair. This means that when you look at them, you wouldn’t know they have a disability. People can suffer from a variety of debilitating symptoms such as chronic pain, cognitive dysfunctions, brain injuries, learning differences, mental health disorders, and hearing and vision impairments.

The bottom line is that everyone with a disability is different, with varying challenges and needs, as well as abilities and attributes.

Story from WDFW employee

Doug Mackey is a dedicated natural resources professional and disability advocate who is a cultural resource review coordinator and permit biologist for the Capital and Asset Management Program of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Coping with new a disability

Doug is no stranger to overcoming obstacles. As a young man, Doug lost part of his leg in a bobsled accident. While recovering from his mid-shin bone amputation, Doug shared a hospital room with an outdoorsman who taught him to tie flies and make fishing rods. About a year and a half after his accident, the two men went on an adventure together to search for native trout in a remote stream — all while Doug was on crutches with just one foot. This experience pushed Doug outside his comfort zone, and inspired him to get out and about again and encourage others to do the same.

Advocating for people with disabilities

Doug continued to pursue his love for recreation and the outdoors, including downhill skiing. In the 1970s and 1980s, Doug coached hundreds of skiers with disabilities, including Diana Golden who lost her right leg to cancer at age 12. She went on to become a world champion skier and won 10 world champion titles, 19 national titles, and a gold medal for disabled skiing at the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Ranging from serving as the Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA Northwest, to organizing a 30,000-person celebration for the United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981, Doug has worked tirelessly to raise awareness on disability rights and inspire people of all abilities to experience the outdoors.

Doug also spent several years in the field of interpretive planning at the National Parks Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, where he worked to make parks, wildlife refuges, and hatcheries more accessible and welcoming to everyone.

Outdoor recreation is for everyone

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) offers numerous opportunities for persons with disabilities who recreate in the state’s great outdoors, including:

  • Accessible hunting and fishing facilities
  • Reduced license fees
  • Special accommodations

Learn more about these opportunities on WDFW’s website.

Image for post
Image for post
A legally blind angler enjoys a day of fishing in Spokane County.

Disability sensitivity

Have you ever found yourself feeling unsure of how to act around people with disabilities?

Here’s a list of simple tips to help you have a positive interaction.

· Don’t assume they see their disability as a tragedy.

· Treat adults like adults — don’t patronize.

· Ask if they need assistance before providing it.

· Speak to the person before their caregiver or interpreter.

· Avoid touching assistive devices such as crutches, wheelchair, or cane.

Written by

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store