October is National Disability Employment Awareness month (NDEAM), and in the past few days, I have seen several articles and messages bringing this topic to the forefront.  Yesterday, a press release came out of Washington that described some steps that will be taken to help the approximately 54,000,000 Americans with disabilities gain access to employment.  Partnering with, among various agencies, the Employment Opportunity Commission (EOC), President Obama will hold job fairs, trainings and town hall meetings to promote awareness.  His goal is to ensure fair and equal access to employment for all Americans, but particularly those with disabilities.  You can read the full press release at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/President-Obama-Announces-New-Initiatives-during-National-Disability-Employment-Month/

I also saw a very effective video promoting equal opportunities for employment of people with disabilities.  This video featured several people with varying disabilities, showing that they are intelligent and capable, just like any other American.  Not only do they deserve the right to employment, reasonable accommodations and equal pay, but they will earn those rights by contributing their valuable skills and talents to their employers, and to society as a whole.

Last month, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was amended to include people with certain medical conditions in its definition of disability, to ensure that they too are given the rights to equal opportunities.  Just after this amendment was announced, the EOC filed a lawsuit against AT&T for their refusal to hire an applicant simply because he was an insulin-dependent diabetic, despite the fact that he had years of experience and was fully qualified to do the job.  With this amendment, there will be no more discriminating against people with these types of medical conditions!

All of these initiatives and promotions are so exciting for Americans with disabilities, and I have only touched on a few!  However, along with these should also come initiatives to promote greater accessibility of the World-wide Web.  Our Government is giving Americans more access than ever before to it and its practices.  With sites such as recovery.gov, disability.gov and apps.gov out there to connect us with Washington, Americans can actively participate in Government initiatives.  But many facets of these sites are not accessible to all!  Recovery.gov for example is very difficult to use and understand if you cannot see the tables, maps and graphs that are used to relate data.  While these sites have accessibility statements, some of the features discussed do not work properly.  For instance the data tables on recovery.gov do not read with row and column headers clearly defined.  There are various other accessibility issues with this site as Seth Grimes points out on his Intelligent-Enterprise blog.  One of the best quotations from his post is from Gareth Horton, senior product manager at BI Vendor Datawatch, where he says “I would say that in practice, it is likely to “just work,” but the government should do better.”  Even with their efforts for Section 508 compliance, they can make things better with fairly minor changes in some cases.  So while we’re fighting the fight for fair and equal opportunity for employment, let’s add to that an on-going fight for web accessibility, especially on such important and life-changing Government sites!