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Beyond NDEAM: Year-Round Employer Strategies for Advancing Disability Inclusion

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) activities don't have to end in October. NDEAM also offers an opportunity to launch year-round activities that highlight the importance of including disability in all of your organization's diversity endeavors. Doing so delivers numerous internal and external benefits to employers:

Ten Ways to Foster the NDEAM Spirit Year Round

Looking for ideas on promoting a disability-friendly workplace? Here are 10 ways to carry out the spirit of NDEAM all year long.

Idea 1

Gather Ideas from Your Corporate Disability Employee Resource Group

Does your organization have a disability-related Employee Resource Group (ERG)? Start your planning efforts there. The members of disability ERGs (sometimes called Business Resource Groups or Affinity Groups) are well positioned to help you brainstorm activities, speakers and topics to include in your awareness-building efforts. ERGs can also serve as a talent pipeline by referring qualified job seekers with disabilities to your organization.

Idea 2

Hold an NDEAM Kickoff Event in October

NDEAM is a fitting time to formally launch disability employment awareness activities — and set the pace for 11 more months of activities designed to promote disability inclusion. Kickoff events can range from large-scale, multi-day celebrations to small brown bag lunches about disability issues. Whatever approach you choose, there are a number of tools and planning resources to assist you in your efforts. Each year, you can use the new NDEAM theme to frame your kick-off event and influence year-round activities.

Idea 3

Host a Disability Mentoring Day

Disability Mentoring Day (DMD) promotes career development for youth with disabilities through hands-on programs, job shadowing and ongoing mentoring. The nationwide observance is the third Wednesday of each October, but employers may choose to host their own events any day of the year. The American Association of People with Disabilities offers information to assist you in implementing a Disability Mentoring Day. Take advantage of this easy way to connect with great talent while providing young people with disabilities valuable career experience.

Idea 4

Sponsor a "Lunch and Learn" Series About Disability Issues

One easy way to maintain NDEAM momentum is to host a series of monthly "lunch and learn" events for employees. Just schedule the date and place, enlist internal or external presenters, and invite employees to come learn about a range of disability-related subjects. Topics can often be suggested by your disability-related ERG (if you have one) and can include everything from "Communicating with Job Seekers with Disabilities," to "Creating Accessible PDF Documents," to "Managing Diabetes at Work." Such events are a great way to educate staff about disability issues in an informal setting. And don't forget to survey attendees after each session to gather feedback and solicit new topic ideas.

Idea 5

Provide Volunteer Opportunities to Your Employees

Smart employers know the benefits of employee volunteerism, which include strong team engagement, leadership development and more. In the spirit of NDEAM, why not sponsor opportunities for your staff to volunteer at local organizations that prepare people with disabilities for work? In communities across the nation, there are often opportunities to volunteer your time reviewing resumes, staging mock-interviews and providing guidance on how to dress for success. Connecting your employees to these opportunities is a great way to both give back and raise awareness. And these activities just might help you source talented job candidates with disabilities for your own organization, as well.

Idea 6

Display Posters Promoting Disability Inclusion

NDEAM is a great time to freshen up walls and bulletin boards in your lobby, break rooms and common areas with disability employment posters — but there's no reason to take them down when October ends! Start by putting up the current year's NDEAM poster, which is available in both English and Spanish. Additional display materials include the Campaign for Disability Employment's poster series. You might also consider highlighting specific disability recognition months such as Heart Health Month, Epilepsy Awareness Month and Brain Injury Awareness Month to keep the pace going throughout the year. And with numerous, free posters to choose from, you can keep your displays fresh and dynamic throughout the year. The benefit of this practice? Employees who are consistently reminded that their organization is disability-friendly may be more likely to refer job-seeking friends with disabilities to your HR department. In addition, those with disabilities themselves may be more likely to self-identify as such.

Idea 7

Offer American Sign Language Training Classes to Your Employees

If your company offers employee development and training opportunities, consider adding American Sign Language (ASL) classes to your catalogue of offerings. Such classes aren't just fun; they teach employees new skills while reinforcing relationships between hearing employees and those who are deaf. On-site classes can be taught by representatives from local or national sign language organizations, while external classes are often available at local colleges and universities. This professional development practice can serve to strengthen internal communications for your employees who are deaf, while bolstering your ability to recruit talented job candidates who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Idea 8

Interview Students with Disabilities during Campus Recruiting Trips

If your company pays recruiting visits to college campuses, be sure to have your recruiters contact each institution's Career Services Office and Disability Services Office to give them a heads up. Let them know that you're interested in interviewing job candidates with disabilities and brief them on the types of positions available. Regularly meeting with juniors and seniors with disabilities on campus recruiting trips is a great way to build a pipeline of talented job candidates for your organization.

Idea 9

Host a Disability 101 Event for Employees

One of the best educational events you can provide your employees, during NDEAM or anytime of year, is a "Disability Employment 101" primer. And thanks to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), such events are easy to coordinate. JAN offers a series of free, ready-to-deliver training modules on a variety of disability-related topics. Titled "Just In Time," the series can be used to educate your staff members with hiring and managerial responsibilities about issues related to applicants and employees with disabilities.

Idea 10

Incorporate Disability Into Your Onboarding Processes

A formal onboarding process helps new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and behaviors they need to become effective members of your organization. As such, it's also a perfect opportunity to educate new employees on your company's policies and practices related to disability inclusion — from reasonable accommodation procedures to your commitment to equal employment opportunity. Such practices will help new employees feel good about the organization they now serve, and may encourage self-identification among people with hidden disabilities. What's more, it may also make them more likely to refer their job-seeking friends with disabilities to your organization.