According to the United States Census Bureau, 41.1 million people, or 12.7% of the total civilian population, have a disability. In the United States, we celebrate accomplishments of individuals with disabilities and focus on practices to break down barriers in employment as part of October’s month-long celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year’s theme, “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation,” was chosen by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy to celebrate the contributions of American workers with disabilities as well as focus on the importance of workplace policies and practices that are supportive and inclusive to all people regardless of abilities.
Not only do individuals with disabilities often face the impact of stigma related to stereotypes and myths regarding disabilities, but individuals with disabilities often face barriers to employment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, individuals with disabilities are much less likely to be employed than individuals without disabilities. The unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities in 2021 was 10.1 percent compared to 5.1 percent unemployment rate for individuals without a disability.
Individuals with disabilities often face discrimination in employment. In fact, in fiscal year 2021, the percentage of disability-related charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was 37.2% which was higher than charges filed on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, color, age, equal pay, or genetic information discrimination.
Mental Health in America
The first week of October also marks Mental Illness Awareness Week in the United States while October 10, 2022, marks World Mental Health Day. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness each year. Over the span of the last two years (2020-2022), 20% of American adults reported that the pandemic had a significant negative impact on their mental health.
Myths regarding mental illness often present an issue for qualified applicants and employees currently in the workforce. In September 2022, a suit was filed by the EEOC involving discrimination against a hotel general manager who advised his employer he needed time off to go to the hospital for treatment of depressive symptoms and thoughts of self-harm. Just two days later, the organization fired the manager while still hospitalized stating that “they were afraid he might hurt other people” as the reason for termination. A common myth regarding individuals with mental illness is that they are violent. In reality, people living with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the instigators.
Earlier in 2022, an applicant who was offered a job pending the results of a drug test had their job offer rescinded after the drug test results came back positive for amphetamines. The applicant explained that they were taking prescribed Adderall used to treat Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and that it would test positive for amphetamines. However, the paper company rescinded the job offer.
The importance of organizations providing education regarding mental illness is a key to breaking down the stigma caused by fear, myths, and stereotypes. It is this stigma regarding mental health that often attributes to individuals not seeking professional help for their symptoms, self-disclosing their disability to their employer, and failing to ask their managers for assistance, when needed.
Join us on October 6th as we discuss invisible disabilities and how that impacts individuals in the workplace as well as hear personal stories regarding steps employers can take to build a more inclusive environment for people with physical and mental disabilities.