National Disability Employment Awareness is recognized each October to highlight the workforce contributions of people with disabilities.
So much as been accomplished over the years, but still, we have a long way to go. In almost all states, the number of people working with disabilities is half of those without disabilities. This year, I wanted to reflect on how much has been achieved over the years.
A History of Disability Employment Awareness
1920- The Smith-Fess Act: Signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, establishes the Vocational Rehabilitation program for Americans with Disabilities.
1935- Social Security Act of 1935- establishes an income system for those unable to work by providing benefits.
1936- Randolph-Sheppard Act: Signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, the Randolph-Sheppard Act mandates a priority to people who are blind to operate vending facilities on federal property.
1938- Wagner-O’Day Act:The Wagner-O’Day Act is passed, requiring all federal agencies to purchase specified products made by people who are blind. In 1971, the Javits-Wagner O’Day Act expands the program to include services as well as supplies and incorporate people with other significant disabilities. In 2006, the program is renamed AbilityOne.
1945- Declaration of National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week:The return of service members with disabilities from World War II sparks public interest in the contributions of people with disabilities in the workplace. On August 11, 1945, President Harry S. Truman approves a Congressional resolution declaring the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.’ In 1962, the word “physically” is removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities.
1954- Vocational Rehabilitation Gains Momentum:Congress passes the Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments of 1954, increasing the scope of the VR system. Targeting people who could proceed or return to work with assistance, VR helps thousands of people obtain employment. Mary Switzer, Director of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation at the time, uses this authority to fund more than 100 university-based rehabilitation programs. The Act also initiates funding for research, eventually leading to the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.
1956- Creation of Social Security Disability Insurance: Congress passes the Social Security Amendments of 1956, which create a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program for workers with disabilities aged 50 to 64. Additional amendments two years later extend SSDI benefits to the dependents of workers with disabilities.
1973- The Rehabilitation Act:The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 marks a major step forward in legislation impacting the employment of people with disabilities, extending and revising state Vocational Rehabilitation services and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability by federally funded and assisted programs, federal employers and federal contractors.
1977- Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act: After major demonstrations in 10 U.S. cities on April 5, including a 150-person sit-in in San Francisco led by Judith Heumann and Kitty Cone lasting 28 days, U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph Califano signs regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These regulations extend civil rights to people with disabilities, covering any program or activity, including employment services, receiving federal financial assistance
1986- Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act of 1986:The Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act enhances work incentives for people with disabilities under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program by making permanent section 1619 of the Social Security Act, which provides for special SSI payments and Medicaid coverage while eligible individuals make attempts to work.