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Did you know October is National Disability Awareness Month?

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a law that prohibited companies from discriminating against employees based on their disabilities. In the United States, almost 50 million people are diagnosed with a disability of some kind. While some disabilities are more severe than others, there are challenges these 50 million people face every day that largely go unnoticed by the rest of us.

Despite these challenges, this doesn’t stop millions of American workers from thriving and prospering. Due to this astounding courage and resiliency, the entire month of October is celebrated as National Disability Awareness Month.

The right talent, right now.

The 2019 theme for National Disability Awareness Month is, “The right talent, right now.” What sometimes gets lost is the extraordinary amount of talent employees with disabilities have. Many years ago, a disability may have been looked upon as a weakness or disadvantage, but that is simply not the case anymore. A disability may be a roadblock or hurdle, but it does not prevent someone from doing their job to the best of their ability, nor does it make them less valuable than someone without a disability.

Consider the notable and historical figures who flourished in spite of (and perhaps because of?) their disability:

  • Frida Kahlo, celebrated as one of the best painters in the history of Mexico, suffered severe damage to her spine and hips in a childhood accident.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio when he was just 39-years-old, and yet, he’s noted as one of the most monumental figures in the history of the United States and the only president to serve three terms in office.
  • Stephen Hawking, one of the brightest and most innovative minds of the past century, developed the excruciating disease of ALS when he was 21-years-old. Before his 30th birthday, he lost his ability to write.

Imagine how different the world would be if people like Kahlo, FDR, and Hawking just threw in the towel on the hardships and challenges they faced in their lives. Any of these historical figures could have spent their time feeling sorry for themselves, but instead, they changed the world. They didn’t change the world in spite of their disability — they changed the world because of their disability.

On that same note, one doesn’t have to be a painter, president of the United States, or a brilliant scientist to draw inspiration and change the world. At this very moment, there’s a dyslexic college student graduating with high distinction. A child with ADHD is now a teacher helping students deal with the same struggles he/she faced in the classroom. National Disability Awareness Month is a true celebration of the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

While employees with disabilities undoubtedly still face adversity and difficulties, it’s the triumph and success in their day-to-day lives that elevate them to soaring heights. Not only is the prosperity of disability in the workforce something we should all be aware of, it’s something we should certainly all learn from.

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