MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The U.S. Department of Labor dedicates the month of October to National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The theme for this year’s campaign “Inclusion Drives Innovation” offers solutions for inclusive work environments aimed at helping individuals with disabilities and employers.

"Americans of all abilities must have access to good, safe jobs," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. "Smart employers know that including different perspectives in problem-solving situations leads to better solutions. Hiring employees with diverse abilities strengthens their business, increases competition and drives innovation."

West Virginia has both the nation’s highest percentage of people with disabilities and the lowest employment rate among them. Many West Virginians who receive Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) believe that they cannot work or they will lose these benefits. It is important not only for employers to understand the value of hiring individuals with disabilities but also for West Virginians to understand that they can have a disability and still go to work while keeping their benefits.

The WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities (CED) has a program specifically designed to assist workers with disabilities who receive Social Security disability cash and medical benefits. The Work Incentives, Planning, and Assistance (WIPA) program is a Social Security funded program that helps to explain how working will affect a person’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Staff work with clients through all stages of employment to understand their options and share resources.

 

“Most people do not know that living on disability benefits alone can lead to a life of poverty. But, working while receiving these important benefits can allow a person to be successful and healthy at the same time,” said Jennifer Tenney, Program Manager for the WIPA Program. "We want to spread the important message that we value all perspectives, including those of individuals with disabilities, and that working while receiving Social Security benefits is possible."

Reflecting this year's theme, throughout the month, the WVU CED will be engaging in a variety of activities to educate West Virginians on disability employment issues and its commitment to an inclusive work culture. These efforts include Lunch and Learn presentations, press releases and social media postings, a campaign to collect pictures of people working within their communities through the Center for Excellence in Disabilities’ Facebook page (#workinginwv, #ndeam, #wipa), highlighting success stories and a Facebook Live event. For more information about hiring individuals with disabilities, visit https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/disability/hiring.