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Be aware during National Disability Employment Awareness Month

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- As with many special observances, Congress expanded National Disability week into the entire month of October beginning in 1988. One year before this, the Department of Defense strived to transition the civilian workforce to consist of at least 2 percent of individuals with disabilities. October now marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

In 2010 President Obama signed an order to hire 100,000 individuals with disabilities by 2015. People with disabilities are diverse in gender, race, ethnicity, and age. This group is considered the only one that anyone of us could become a member of at any time.

Federal law prohibits discrimination within its employment entity. Aspects of discrimination can be defined as any aspect relating to hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits and any other term or condition of employment. Many people may think that a disability is defined as something that they can visually understand as a hindering factor of someone's life. However, a disability is not always something you can see just by looking at someone. A disability can be defined as a physical or mental impairment, or condition that limits a person to daily life activities in some way or another. Two of the main acts covering the rights of those with disabilities include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is used for all federal employees, and also the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It is important for individuals to be educated on the governing acts mentioned above because we need to understand what is and is not acceptable in our work centers. For instance, it is important to know that when seeking a new job, the employer is not allowed to question a potential employee's physical and mental health conditions. The employer may only ask applicants if they are able to perform the job and how they would perform it, prior to hiring. Also, after hiring an individual and then learning of a disability, the employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations for this new employee.

We continue to face challenges in our work centers today with members who have disabilities due to issues such as myths and stereotypes. Many of us have misunderstandings about what it's like to live with a disability. Ensuring that our supervisors are properly trained and informed as well as conducting specific training is a key strategy to ensure each of our roles to foster cohesiveness within the workplace.

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