Denise Kasten: Teacher's Aide and expert on all things Elvis. Learn more about her and other employees hired through the Pathways initiative at

Denise Kasten: Teacher’s Aide and expert on all things Elvis. Learn more about her and other employees hired through the Pathways initiative at

A Diversity Daily guest blog from our friends at SourceAmerica

It’s a shame that we still need National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Recognized each October, NDEAM is a national campaign that aims to raise awareness about disability employment issues, while celebrating the many and varied contributions of America’s employees with disabilities.

Last year, the Department of Labor’s theme was “Expect. Employ. Empower.” For more than 40 years, we have lived this theme at SourceAmerica, developing and expanding programs to bring new and varied employment opportunities to people with disabilities. As the numbers show, our work is not without its challenges — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 80% of people with disabilities do not have jobs.

But why is unemployment among people with disabilities so high? Many assume it’s because people with disabilities are an employment risk, are absent more often, increase workers compensation insurance rates, are unable to meet performance standards, or that accommodating people with disabilities is costly. Employer education is needed to dispel these myths and misconceptions about employees with disabilities. Here are the facts:

  • Studies by firms such as DuPont show that employees with disabilities are not absent any more than employees without disabilities
  • Employer insurance rates are based solely on operational hazards. In fact, a study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers showed that 90% of the 279 companies surveyed reported no effect on insurance costs as a result of hiring workers with disabilities
  • Two Dupont studies revealed that job performance of people with disabilities rated average or better than colleagues without disabilities

Perhaps most enlightening is what Americans actually do believe about people with disabilities in the workplace. According to a recent Harris Poll, 96% of working Americans support the right of people with disabilities to be actively employed. 91% believe qualified people with disabilities should be hired for the same positions as those without disabilities. And a 2013 SourceAmerica survey found that nine out of 10 customers are equally satisfied with the quality of work from a person regardless of their disability status.

Nevertheless, 80% of working-age adults with disabilities still remain ostracized from the workforce – and not for lack of ability or will.

Come January, when NDEAM is no longer top of mind for the public and almost a year away, SourceAmerica still aims to ensure that every American with a disability who wants to work finds a fulfilling job and a good measure of the pride and independence that goes along with employment.

One way this national nonprofit and federal contractor is adapting to tighter federal government budgets is by looking to the private sector for new opportunities for people with disabilities. We and our 520 community-based nonprofit agency partners have been hard at work to expand opportunities in the private sector. This effort is intended to create a larger and more diversified field of employment for the communities we serve, and we are very optimistic about it going forward. Additionally, our Pathways to Careers initiative enables people with the most significant disabilities to have an informed choice of competitive, integrated employment options across a broad range of community settings.

True employment equality for people with disabilities requires meaningful educational reform and expanded access to employment resources. Federal, state and local governments, national and regional organizations, entire communities, people with disabilities, families and friends – we all need to work together now to create an infrastructure that provides greater employment opportunities for the millions of Americans currently living with disabilities.

We envision a time when NDEAM is no longer necessary — to see that Americans are aware every day of the contributions of employees with disabilities.

To learn more about SourceAmerica and their Pathways to Careers initiative, visit