Media Release

 

OKLAHOMA CITY – October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month in recognition of the critical part workers with disabilities play in a diverse and productive workforce.

 

The 2022 NDEAM theme is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation.” 

 

More than 312,900 working-age Oklahomans, ages 21 thru 64, or 14.4 percent of the population, have disabilities, according to U.S. Census’ 2019 American Community Survey data compiled by Cornell University’s Yang Tan Institute.

 

Only 40 percent of Oklahomans with disabilities, ages 21-64, were employed, compared to 79.2 percent of persons without disabilities, according to the same source.

 

In a report about the impact of critical labor shortages, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce states, “In 2021, businesses added an unprecedented 3.8 million jobs. But at the same time, workforce participation remains below pre-pandemic levels, meaning we have 3.4 million fewer Americans working today compared to February of 2020.”

 

“DRS Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired offer employment programs that empower dependable, job-ready clients with disabilities to step up and fill labor gaps Oklahoma,” Melinda Fruendt, executive director at Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, said. “When that happens, DRS clients become self-sufficient, taxpaying citizens who reduce or eliminate their need for government services.”

 

“People with disabilities are the largest and most diverse minority group, representing all abilities, ages, races, ethnicities, religions and socio-economic backgrounds,” Fruendt added. “Oklahoma employers realize they can’t afford to eliminate these qualified and dependable workers because some do tasks differently. Getting the job done right is what really matters to employers.”

 

As part of the NDEAM celebration, DRS’ Business Services Program will host “Ready,. Set, Hired!”, an innovative Career Expo that connects hiring officials with job seekers with disabilities. The free event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, October 6, in the Client Services Center at Tulsa Technology Center’s Lemley Memorial Campus at 3638 S. Memorial Drive.

 

DRS’ co-hosts are Green Country Workforce and Northeast Oklahoma Workforce and event sponsors are LABR, Amazon, Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, Tulsa Technology Center and ONE Gas.

 

Job seekers with disabilities are encouraged to register free of charge for the Expo at https://www.okdrs.gov/node/12061. They are also welcome to walk up without pre-registration on the day of the event.

 

In 2021, DRS’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired helped 10,529 jobseekers with disabilities with career counseling, vocational education and training, medical services required to become employed, and assistive technology geared to their specific needs and career goals.

 

A total of 956 of these jobseekers become employed, earning $25,397 in average annual wages and paying $3, 810 in average annual taxes.

 

Oklahoma Rehabilitation Services also served 3,211 participants through Transition and a Pre-Employment Transition Services grant partnerships with the National Center for Disability Education and Training at University of Oklahoma Outreach. The mutual goals are to prepare and empower youth with disabilities to transition successfully to post-secondary education and employment.

 

National Disability Employment Awareness Month began in 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

To find out more about employment services offered by Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, Vocational Rehabilitation and Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, email info@okdrs.gov or phone 800-845-8476.