U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden celebrated the National Disability Employment Awareness Month observance Oct. 21 at the Clay Kaserne Chapel.
“Disability awareness plays a role in workplace integration,” said guest speaker Dr. William (Don) Wright. “The reality is that we are only fully aware of something when we focus our attention on it.”
Wright remembered the first time he himself became aware. The moment happened at a wood working class in middle school where he met Brian, who was in a wheelchair, and the bones in his legs and spine were distorted and one arm and hand did not function properly. His first moment of awareness happened at a moment of free play in the classroom, when he ran past Brian’s wheelchair and Brian grabbed his arm and made him stop as part of the game, he said.
“I was astounded at his strength!” Wright said. “All the time, I had thought he was extremely frail and weak. That was the first time I realized my initial perceptions concerning Brian were completely wrong.”
Wright’s second moment of awareness came when the end of the year projects were presented. His little napkin holder did not exactly match on both sides and was a little wobbly, he said.
“When we got to Brian’s finished project, a group of us just stood in awe,” Wright said. “He had constructed a beautiful jewelry box made of some kind of exotic wood. … So, the second lesson I learned from Brian was about underestimating someone’s capability, again, based on my perceptions.”
People tend to underestimate those with disabilities, he said.
In 1945, Congress announced the first week in October each year to be “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” Finally, in 1988, the week was expanded to a month and renamed to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
“I think the focus on awareness is most appropriate,” Wright said. According to the Presidential Proclamation 2019, the unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities reached the lowest level on record.
“I would say that awareness is working,” Wright said. “I encourage you to stay aware.”