October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. With 54-60 million people in the United States, and 1 billion worldwide living with one or more disability, the importance of this issue stretches beyond politics. As such, since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and a recent executive order signed in 2010 which increases the hiring and retention of disabled employees, our country has been working toward making our workplace a more accessible and inclusive environment in order to foster the significant contributions those with disabilities make as an essential part of our workforce. However, there remains even more that we can do.

The statistics are staggering:

  • In the U.S., the total population age 16 and over living with one or more disabilities is 28,776,000.
  • Of those 28.78 million people, 5.05 million people are eligible for employment.
  • 2.72 million men, and 2.33 million are women.
  • Though the unemployment rate in the U.S. has been declining and currently rests at 7.8%, the unemployment rate for those living with a disability is 13.5%.
  • And for the working age population (both men and women with disabilities age 16-64) 14.3% of men are unemployed and 15.3% of women are unemployed.

As the infographic to the right illustrates, there is a significant discrepancy between the employment opportunities that those without disabilities receive over those with disabilities. Granted, the number and range of potential jobs are restricted somewhat for those with disabilities, however, we should keep in mind that unemployment rate is a metric that describes people who can and are looking for work, but remain unemployed. Therefore, the statistics demonstrate, and hence the campaign for awareness this month, that more needs to be done to ensure that the avenues of employment remain fair and just for those who live with disabilities.

An intimately related issue, of course, is healthcare. With the accelerating rise in healthcare costs in recent years, the need to maintain the quality of healthcare has become an imperative. In Leslie Neal-Boylan's newly published book Nurses with Disabilities she breaks ground with her research into the challenges that face nurses with disabilities. Through this somewhat paradoxical lens (one does not usually think of healthcare professionals living with their own disabilities) Boylan examines the great breadth and depth of this issue:

  • The demographics of nurses with disabilities
  • Why those who were formerly employed are leaving the profession
  • Chronicling the day-to-day challenges that nurses with various disabilities face
  • The ethics of fairness not only with regard to nurses with disabilities, but also concerning the patients they care for
  • The solutions for retaining nurses with disabilities, especially given the growing need for experienced healthcare professionals today
  • The heroism, empathy, and compassion of which nurses with disabilities are uniquely capable

By addressing why nurses feel the need to conceal their disability, and the misconception that having a disability can compromise patient safety and then flipping that perception on its head, in Nurses with Disabilities Neal-Boylan offers acute insight into how an oft neglected, but hugely important minority in the United States overcomes adversity.