October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. As part of this national campaign, many non-profit and advocacy groups are working to celebrate the workplace contributions currently made by disabled workers in Minnesota and across the country, who constitute about 11.9 percent of the U.S. population. Minnesota reports a slightly lower percentage of disabled individuals than the national average, at 9.8 percent.
The national campaign also hopes to increase awareness about issues facing by disabled workers. One such topic is “hidden disabilities” — impairments that may not be visible to the casual observer, but which nevertheless qualify as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act because they functionally limit one or more of a person’s major life activities. Some examples of “hidden” disabilities include learning disabilities, mental illness, epilepsy, cancer, arthritis, mental retardation, traumatic brain injury, or asthma.
In fact, Minnesota readers may be surprise to learn that a “hidden” disability — arthritis — is among the most common causes of disability among workers. Nationwide, the Arthritis Foundation estimates that around 50 million American adults and 300,000 American children are affected by the autoimmune disease, which causes the body’s own immune cells to attack healthy tissues — primarily the joints — resulting in inflammation. In many cases, the symptoms of arthritis can severely interfere with a person’s ability to work. For example, workers with arthritis may find it difficult to sit or stand for extended periods of time.
The campaign also hopes to inspire employers to go beyond mere compliance with the ADA’s prohibitions against disability discrimination. One of its suggested activities is for employers to hold informational workshops or seminars addressing how employees can interact with disabled coworkers. Coworkers who have not have been exposed to a certain disability may be uncertain how to act. Yet disabled workers are often eager to show that, with the assistance of a reasonable workplace accommodation, they can lead normal and productive lives.
Source: LaCrosse Tribune, “Marcia Jagodzinske: Don’t judge people on their disability,” Marcia Jagodzinske, Oct. 7, 2012
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