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NIOSH highlights National Disability Employment Awareness Month (10/6)

October 6, 2009
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October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an opportunity to highlight the important contributions from workers with disabilities, as well as the barriers they still face. According to a recent press release, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides an online resource to help provide safe, fulfilling work for men and women with developmental disabilities.

The NIOSH safety and health Web-based topic page, “Workers with Developmental Disabilities,” serves as a resource for employers, parents, guardians, and workers with developmental, cognitive or intellectual disabilities. The page, which can be viewed at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/wdd/, includes the database of state-specific information, a listing of relevant NIOSH publications, Federal government resources, as well as other organizations and reports.

This page puts a tremendous amount of information into one place. It saves users potentially many days of effort to find, collect, and organize information that will be important for designing a safe work environment for employees with developmental disabilities.

There are approximately 4.5 million developmentally disabled individuals in the United States, and an estimated 30 percent of working-age adults in this group are employed. They may work in facility-based settings or “sheltered workshops,” locations where disadvantaged individuals can receive paid employment in a supportive environment, or in the conventional labor market. Developmental disabilities include conditions such as mental retardation, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and epilepsy.

“The opportunity to have a safe, fulfilling job is important for individuals, for their families, their communities, and for all of us as we benefit from the services and products they help to provide,” said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. “NIOSH is pleased to have a role with our partners in helping to address the needs of workers with developmental disabilities, and to help employers provide workplaces that are safe and healthy for all workers.”

These workers, like all other workers, are at risk of suffering a work-related injury or illness. While there is some research that seems to indicate that these workers may be at higher risk on average than the traditional workforce due to characteristics of their disabilities, such as lack of awareness of danger, impulsivity and restlessness, and difficulties in communication, there is no national data source to track injuries in this group.

One of the fundamental principles of our society is the right of men and women to find fulfillment, a sense of purpose, and a livelihood in working. The NIOSH Web page is intended to help employers and others recognize and address factors that may put employees with developmental disabilities at risk, in tandem with programs to help them realize their potential as a valued part of the workforce. For more information about NIOSH research and recommendations, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh/.

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