October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Robert Schrader
  • 39th Maintenance Squadron
Did you know that 54 million people in the United States live with some sort of disability? Initially, that number sounds almost unrealistic until you stop and look at your own family history.

Chances are you may find at least one member of your family challenged by some sort of a disability. When I took a moment to look at my family tree, three individuals immediately came to mind. If you had trouble finding someone, extend the word "family" to include your "military family." Let us not forget our brothers and sisters, in all branches of service, who are returning from war rebuilding their lives and overcoming disabilities as a result of combat. Now ask yourself how you would feel if your disabled family member was not given fair and equal access to retain employment in today's job market.

Our nation's history is littered with documented cases of discrimination. While race, religion and sex discrimination cases make headlines nearly every day, disability discrimination should not be overlooked. It is the responsibility of every individual to become educated about this type of discrimination and stop it at all levels. As our country grows in age it also grows in wisdom. We need to use this wisdom to educate our nation to be more open minded. Our true focus should be on what the disabled member can bring to the organization instead of what their limitations are. Usually the successful solution to overcoming the limitation takes very little effort on the organization's part to implement.

The federal government, with the endorsement of President Barrack Obama, has implemented a program to educate the nation's workforce and match individuals with disabilities to various jobs they are qualified to do. The organization is called the Workforce Recruitment Program. The WRP is a recruitment and referral program that connects federal sector employers nationwide with highly motivated, postsecondary students and recent graduates with disabilities who are eager to prove their abilities in the workplace through summer or permanent jobs. It is a program co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy and the U.S. Department of Defense with the participation of many other federal agencies.

The WRP has provided federal employment to nearly 4,500 students since 1995. To learn more about this outstanding federal program, visit https://wrp.gov/. The Web site is also designed so federal government employers can register their organization online and participate in the program. This program is also backed with federal funding so organizations have very little out-of-pocket expense when it comes to equipping disabled employees with the tools they need to be successful in the workplace.

It is time to take notice that disabled Americans make up a significant percentage of our nation. Isn't it only fair they be allowed to make up a significant percentage of our nation's workforce? If your organization has billets for civilian employees, take the time to implement a program that enables the disabled to apply and hire for these positions. Also, realize that it doesn't just end at the federal level. After your military career has ended, and you enter the civilian workforce, implement these same programs and tap into the valuable resource that history has overlooked for some time.