Dedicated to Improving the Lives of Blind and Visually Impaired People

Recognizing Labor Day and Preparing for National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2022

by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern

As we approach Labor Day 2022, it’s important to remember that this holiday represents more than the close of another summer season and a return to school. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) describes Labor Day as “an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers.” According to an article from the DOL, Labor Day was not always celebrated in September. By 1894, when Labor Day was designated a federal holiday, 31 states had created their own local versions. Oregon was the first to celebrate Labor Day, on February 21, 1887. The first Labor Day celebrations in September seem to have taken place in New York City, on September 5, 1882, and again on the same date in 1883. While Labor Day in September goes back to the early 1880s, Oregon’s example shows that the early history of Labor Day highlights the relevance of supporting the causes of labor throughout the year. These initiatives are particularly relevant to people with disabilities. According to American Community Survey data from 2019, only 44% of working-age people with visual impairments are actively employed, compared with 79% of those without disabilities. This reminds us that people with disabilities still face barriers when seeking to become productive members of the work force. As we celebrate the contributions Americans make through their labor, let us also remember that there are individuals who wish to participate in the work force but are denied that opportunity. Let us acknowledge these job seekers and their efforts to improve this statistic.

The “What Can You Do” Campaign and National Disability Employment Awareness Month

The recognition of Labor Day also reminds us that another annual event will soon be taking place, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), celebrated in October and organized by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) of the DOL. The theme for this year’s NDEAM is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.” According to the DOL, the 2022 observance “recognizes the vital role people with disabilities play in making the nation’s workforce diverse and inclusive.” Central to this theme is What Can You Do, a public awareness effort released by the Campaign for Disability Employment (CDE). “The CDE is a collaborative of several leading disability and business organizations convened by ODEP to work together to address disability employment.” What Can You Do consists of a series of public service announcements (PSAs) showcasing different aspects of the value that workers with disabilities add to the workplace. The “Who I Am” PSA features several workers with disabilities, including a person living with vision loss, discussing their full identities and how their value at work goes beyond their conditions. In the “I Can” PSA, seven adults with disabilities first talk about what they can do for work, and then turn the discussion to employers, with one stating “But I can’t put my skills to work for your organization if I’m not given the opportunity.” Although this PSA was first released in 2010, given the statistics for employment of those who are visually impaired, the message of this PSA, of the “What Can You Do” campaign, and of this year’s NDEAM are as relevant today as ever.