October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The official 2011 theme for NDEAM, announced earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, is “Profit by Investing in Workers with Disabilities.”
According to the Department of Labor’s website, the awareness campaign, with origins dating to 1945, used to last a week, but it was later expanded to take place over a month’s time. It has also undergone several name changes through the years, first recognizing only physical disabilities but later including broader acknowledgement of all types of disability.
On Oct. 3, President Obama released a presidential proclamation about NDEAM, available on www.whitehouse.gov, noting the skills people with disabilities have to offer, the high unemployment rate among those with disabilities, and committing to improving educational and employment opportunities.
I recently had a conversation with the director of a community agency serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in particular, and I learned about some of the struggles clients and their families encounter in planning for life after secondary school, whether it be post-secondary education or finding a niche in the workplace.
If post-secondary education is desired, there are new options surfacing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Some colleges and universities have started innovative programs geared to providing people with intellectual disabilities a chance to experience the independence and social benefits of attending college, only without earning a degree. Taking part in the programs also may be an important addition to the resumes of individuals with intellectual disabilities once they seek work with employers.
The programs vary in their details; some involve enrolling in regular college classes on an audit basis, while others appear to have more of a life skills orientation. The person I spoke with whose agency assists people with intellectual disabilities thought these programs will be increasing in numbers across the country.
I learned about two such programs in my own state, of which I was previously unaware: one at UNC Greensboro called Beyond Academics, and another at Western Carolina University called University Participant. Career counselors may want to determine whether similar programs are available where they live.
Hope Yancey is a counselor and freelance writer living in Charlotte, North Carolina