FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time to recognize both the contributions made by workers with disabilities and the employment barriers still present.

We can help increase awareness by learning about the experiences of these often-overlooked American workers. This year's theme - "Expectation + Opportunity = Full Participation" - captures the vital role that expectations play in our successes as individuals and as a society.

Expectation without opportunity is simply not enough. People with disabilities need access to a full range of employment choices to maximize their talents. With both the expectation and opportunity, people with disabilities will become full participants in our economy.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 49.7 million Americans have at least one disability. This large number shows that disability issues need to be on the minds of the public.

People with targeted disabilities are losing ground in Federal employment. They are less than one-percent of the Federal workforce. Targeted disabilities include deafness, blindness, missing extremities, paralysis, seizure disorders, distortion of limbs or spine, mental illness and severe or intellectual impairments.

Disability issues in America encompass social and political rights, social inclusion and citizenship. The country as a whole has made progress over the years in recognizing disability issues, but there are still barriers to full inclusion.

In the realm of employment in particular, persons with disabilities have trouble receiving appropriate recognition. They are often overlooked for positions or promotions, perhaps because employers assume the accommodations - such as computer screen reading software for a person without vision and interpreter relay services for a person without hearing - will be too difficult or costly to provide. Contrary to what employers think, the Defense Department's Computer/Electronics Accommodations Program purchases and delivers hardware, software and services needed by disabled employes to function in the workplace. CAP partners with 64 other federal agencies, including Veterans Affairs.

Barriers to social inclusion can also be caused by attitudes of people without disabilities. Like many other negative social attitudes, these can be the result of underexposure to the situation. A person without a disability may be uncomfortable interacting with those with disabilities out of a fear of not acting appropriately.

It is important to recognize the contributions, skills and talents of people with disabilities, not just during this designated month but also throughout the year.

Page last updated Thu October 15th, 2009 at 15:47