National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Celebrating 50 years of inclusive employment opportunities

  • Published
  • By Melanie Aytch
  • Hill AFB Affirmative Employment Program Manager

During the month of October, the nation celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and the contributions of employees with disabilities to American society.

Sept. 26, 2023, marked the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehab Act was a civil rights law that prohibited discrimination against federal employees with disabilities. The Rehab Act created employment opportunities for qualified individuals with disabilities to join the federal sector until 1990, when the Rehab Act evolved into the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA not only prohibited discrimination based on disability for federal employees, the ADA also prohibited discrimination based on disability within the private sector as well.

According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “a person has a disability if the person:

  • Has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning, or operation of a major bodily function, such as brain, musculoskeletal, respiratory, circulatory, or endocrine function).
  • Has a history of a disability.
  • Is subject to an adverse employment action because of a physical or mental impairment the individual has or is perceived to have, except if it is transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor.

A medical condition does not need to be long-term, permanent, or severe to be substantially limiting. Also, if symptoms come and go, what matters is how limiting the symptoms are when they are active.”

Employees that have a disability may request reasonable accommodation if desired. Reasonable accommodation is a modification to an employee’s job, work environment, and/or the way things are typically done. Those modifications may include but not limited to schedule changes, accessible communications such as interpreters, technology assistance such as screen reader software, physical changes such as modifying restrooms, etc. Bottom line, reasonable accommodations are a necessity for employees with disabilities to apply for and perform their duties to their fullest potential and relish the benefits and privileges of employment.

It is imperative for all employees to be aware of their rights as it relates to being treated fairly. Managers and supervisors should have extensive knowledge of the reasonable accommodation process, as employees are likely to go to their supervisor first to request reasonable accommodations. Managers and supervisors are mandated by federal, state, and local government sectors to reasonably accommodate job applicants and/or employees. If an accommodation causes undue hardship to the agency, the agency does not have to provide the requested accommodation. Undue hardship means that the accommodation would be too difficult or too expensive to provide, considering the agency’s size, financial resources, and the needs of the agency. If this is the case, management must go through an extensive process to deny an employee’s reasonable accommodation.

When applicants and/or employees request reasonable accommodations, management should not focus on the employee’s disability but on the limitations in which the employee has. In doing so, management is better equipped to enter the interactive process to swiftly attempt accommodation for the employee. The interactive process involves engaging with the employee and your local Disability Program Manager to initiate the reasonable accommodation process. In the interim, management should visit the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) A to Z of Disabilities and Accommodations and explore how they can accommodate the employee.

In addition, if an employee requires accommodations for their computer / electronic needs for cognitive, communication, dexterity, hearing, or vision limitations, employees can visit Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) at Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program to request an accommodation. CAP is a Department of Defense resource that provides technology devices and services to employees and military members free of charge.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding reasonable accommodation, please contact the Hill AFB Disability Program Manager, Gregory Boykin, at 801-777-7834.

In the event, you believe you have been subjected to discrimination based on disability (mental or physical) or your dependents’ disability, you have the right to pursue with filing an EEO complaint with the Hill AFB EO Office. If you have any questions regarding filing a complaint, please contact 801-777-4856.

For additional resources regarding disability, go to EEOC Disability-Related Resources | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.