October is National Employment Disability Awareness Month

by Kristen Pettey

This month we are eager to share our endorsement of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM); to educate people about disability employment issues, and to celebrate the many and diverse contributions made by those with disabilities

We would like to honor two disabled individuals and one able bodied young man who have made and are making powerful contributions
to better the lives of disabled persons throughout
the world.

Abraham Nemeth (October 16, 1918 – October 2, 2013)

Abraham Nemeth, mathematician and inventor, was born in Manhattan to a large family of Jewish immigrants. Abraham was congenitally blind from a combination of macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. Abraham went to a public school –despite being fully blind– and later received a master’s degree in psychology from Columbia University. Abraham was most known for developing a system for the blind to read and write mathematics. Called Nemeth Code, it was designed for Mathematics and Science Notation. In addition, he created MathSpeak, which is a standard system of reading mathematical formulas aloud. Not only did Abraham overcome the challenges of his disability, he also made a monumental impact on the lives of many blind people, whether they are aspiring mathematicians or not!

Paul Longmore (July 10, 1946 – August 9, 2010) 

Paul Longmore was a professor of history, author, and a noted disability activist who taught at San Francisco State University. Paul was also the leading historian in disability publishing and wrote about disability history prior to disability studies becoming a popular subject on college campuses. At the young age of seven years old, he contracted polio and lost the use of his hands. Paul required breathing assistance from a ventilator at night and for part of the day, which was paid for by federal funding. However, federal law had a restriction on how much money a person with a disability can earn and still receive assistance. Ultimately, the Social Security Administration released what is now called the Longmore Amendment, which has changed the rules on how the disabled receive assistance from the federal government.

Alexander Knoll

We would also like to profile Alexander Knoll who, though able bodied, is making great efforts to improve the lives of the disabled via his app, “Ability App.” Alexander, who is 12 years old, has created an app that will “help people with disabilities and their caregivers navigate public spaces and find safe, reliable services and employment opportunities.” Alex has been a guest on shows such as Ellen and the T.D. Jakes show, has received numerous awards, and has been featured in many national and international publications.

Alex is still developing his app. On his GoFundMe page (https://www.gofundme.com/abilityapp) he explains that he was inspired when he saw an older gentleman in a wheelchair trying to open a heavy door unsuccessfully. Alex wrote, “As the man struggled to get through the door, I wondered if there was an app that could have told him, before he left his house, about the features available at this and other stores around the area.” The app is expected to have tons of disability friendly features and currently Alex is over a quarter of the way to reaching his $25k goal. Go Alex!

Whether disabled or able bodied, we can see from these profiles, that we can all contribute to making our local and national community a more diverse, welcoming, and inclusive place. At a recent NDEAM ribbon cutting ceremony at the Omni Center in Council Bluffs, IA, Sam Comfort stated, “We all have things we can contribute.” Sam, who is the Work Experience Coordinator at Goodwill Industries continued, “We try to focus on the ability, not the disability.”

We all need to focus on the ability—as Alex has with his app, as Paul and Abraham have through their work and the life changing contributions they’ve made. Everyone can make a difference. With the right perspective we can encourage future generations to be understanding, courageous, and inventive—contributing to our communities and promoting inclusion.