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October: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October was officially designated as “National Disability Employment Awareness Month” in 1988. In North Carolina roughly 1.2 million individuals report having some disability such as hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, or self-care difficulty. Just over half (52.4 percent) are females with a disability, and the majority identify as white (70.8%). Last year, North Carolina ranked 16th in the nation with 13.9 percent of the population with a disability - above the nation’s average of 12.6 percent. [1]

Within North Carolina, Rutherford County had the largest percentage of people with a disability at 22.1 percent, while Wake County had the lowest with 8.6 percent of its population reporting to have some disability.

October’s focus is bringing awareness to individuals with a disability and their participation in the workforce. A quarter of all disabled individuals in North Carolina are in the labor force (meaning they are employed or actively seeking employment); and about 20 percent are employed. In 2015, North Carolina’s unemployment rate was 5.7 percent for the general population, while 19.8 percent of the disabled in the workforce were unemployed. North Carolina has a slightly smaller percentage of its disabled population that are employed compared to the nation, but this is also true for its individuals that have no disability.


The industries in North Carolina which employ the most individuals with a disability are Educational, Health Care, and Social Assistance (employing 21.8 percent of the working disabled) followed by Retail Trade (14.0 percent) and Manufacturing (12.7 percent). Local, State, and Federal government account for 15.0 percent of disabled worker employees in North Carolina.

Median earnings are roughly 33 percent lower for the disabled population in North Carolina compared to the national median. Additionally, poverty is higher in North Carolina for individuals that report having a disability. Just over 23 percent of disabled persons are at or below the poverty line, compared to only 14.1 percent with no disability. 


Workers with a disability are much more likely to be employed part time compared to those with no disability. As of 2015, 32 percent of workers nationwide with a disability were working part-time compared to 18 percent with no disability. Disability has also been a rising factor in individuals not participating in the labor force. Just over 20 percent of the population that is not in the labor force reports disability as the reason.


Disability tends to affect the older population at a higher rate than compared to other age groups.  Roughly 37.8 percent of the population 65 years or older have a disability, while 11.5 percent between the ages of 18 and 64 have a disability, and 5.7 percent of the population 5 to 17 years old report a disability. The majority of the population 65 years and older that reported having a disability had some form of an ambulatory difficulty.[2] 

Steps have been taken over the past few decades to encourage these individuals to pursue a job as part of the workforce. North Carolina’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, within the Department of Health and human Services, provides counseling, training, education, transportation, job placement, assistive technology and other support services to people with disabilities. According to the State Rehabilitation Council 2015 Annual Report, over 6,300 North Carolinians were assisted in achieving successful employment outcomes, such as finding a job and being provided health and other employment benefits. Close to 18 percent of these individuals received supported employment in an integrated setting.[3] With the advancement of technology and medicine, there is the potential to continue to see an encouraging number of the disabled population pursue an opportunity as a member of the labor force.


[1] Civilian non-institutionalized population (age 16+)

[2] The Census Bureau defines an Ambulatory difficulty as an individual that has “serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs.”

[3] According to the American Foundation for the Blind, supported employment “is a model of employment that provides people with severe disabilities the appropriate, ongoing support that is necessary for success in a competitive work environment.”

  • 26 October 2016
  • Author: Devon Holmes
  • Number of views: 1188
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