Disability: Part of the Equity Equation
By Thelma Sykes, Civil Rights Staff
Over 75 years ago, Congress established what would become National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). NDEAM was initially called National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week and was observed during the first week of October. However, to be more inclusive to those with different types of disabilities, the word “physically” was removed in 1962. By 1988, Congress expanded the recognition to the entire month of October and gave it the name NDEAM.
The theme for this year is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.”
NDEAM is a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions of past and present FSIS workers with disabilities. The work of PWD has been essential to our nation’s success and our ability to protect the public’s health by ensuring that meat, poultry and egg products are safe, wholesome and properly labeled. PWD are sharing their talents with the agency, and FSIS is committed to continuing to work to become an employer of choice for all members of this community.
There are many noteworthy PWD who were either born with or developed a disability later in life. Three of those individuals are highlighted below:
Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Roosevelt was an American lawyer and politician. While vacationing in Canada in 1921 (before he became president) he was diagnosed with polio and became paralyzed from the waist down. This did not deter his will to pursue various business opportunities and politics and eventually run for president. He founded two organizations in support of PWD: the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation and the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.
Hawking was a world-renowned English physicist, author, and the Director of Research at the University of Cambridge Centre for Theoretical Cosmology. He focused on the evolution of the universe, as governed by the laws of general relativity. Hawking was afflicted by a rare condition known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which steadily paralyzed him over time. Eventually, he was only able to communicate using a single cheek muscle attached to a speech-generating device. His physical condition did not stop him from achieving successes, becoming a leader in the scientific community, and sharing ideas with the world. His achievements earned him several awards to include the Albert Einstein Award, Albert Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Sinah is the world’s first female and India’s first amputee to climb Mount Everest. She is also a national level volleyball player. Sinha was thrown from a moving train in 2011 by thieves attempting to rob her. As she lay on the tracks, 49 trains passed on top of her. As a result, her leg was amputated. Despite being an amputee, she decided to climb Mount Everest later that year. At first, she was ridiculed and told she was unfit to accomplish this feat, but through determination, training, and will-power, she conquered the highest point on the Earth. To quote Sinha, “Failure is not when we fall short of achieving our goals. It is when we don’t have goals worthy enough.”
Falsehoods and ignorance have sometimes prevented PWD from thriving and being accepted and supported, especially in the workforce. This year’s NDEAM’s theme, Disability: Part of the Equity Equation, is fitting as FSIS strives to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce where PWD feel included, acknowledged and appreciated. Read more information about NDEAM at the Library of Congress and U.S. Department of Labor.
Photo source: wonderslist.com.