February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month, launched by Jewish organizations in 2009 to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities and their loved ones.
Since then, the public’s awareness has indeed grown. The fields of education and health care have advanced. For the most part, children with developmental or intellectual disabilities are no longer lumped together as having “special needs,” segregated into separate classrooms — or worse, penalized with bad grades or harshly disciplined as a result of their differences. Instead, greater vigilance has resulted in more specialized diagnoses which, in turn, have created more personalized and effective educational and therapeutic responses.
This increased awareness and vigilance have also produced an unprecedented spike in diagnoses. Recent U.S. estimates show that about one in six children between the ages of 3 and 17 — some 15 percent — display one or more developmental disabilities that create physical, learning, language, or behavioral challenges. Yet, as a result in this increase in diagnosis, more kids — and, ultimately, adults — are being categorized as developmentally or intellectually disabled. Unfortunately, such labels may prematurely and unnecessarily consign many people to a lifetime of joblessness.
That’s because despite our overall progress when it comes to engaging people with developmental disabilities, few businesses recognize these individuals’ values in the workplace. In fact, according to the advocacy organization The Arc, recent U.S. labor statistics show that the majority of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are either unemployed or underemployed, despite their ability and desire to work.