Formation of NOD
The United Nations proclaimed 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons, to promote the full and equal participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of life. At the year’s conclusion, representatives from 48 states met in Washington, D.C., and formed the National Office on Disability to continue the momentum toward the UN’s goal. Alan A. Reich was appointed to lead the new organization, and in 1983 the name was changed to the National Organization on Disability (NOD).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
As NOD built its programs and its reputation, the nationwide call for a new civil rights law to ensure the full equality of Americans with disabilities began to gain momentum. NOD joined with other disability organizations in a campaign for a new disability law—the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 1989, James Brady, President Ronald Reagan’s former Press Secretary and an impassioned advocate for all Americans with disabilities, joined NOD as Vice Chairman. Brady and other NOD leaders gave speeches, lobbied Congressional Committees, and enlisted nationwide grassroots support for the bill, which was signed into law in 1990.
The ADA gave new impetus to the disability movement and a fresh public awareness of the critical issue of the employment of people with disabilities. NOD enlisted prominent business leaders to help make the case that hiring people with disabilities is good for business. The CEO Council, founded in 1992 under the chairmanship of BusinessWeek President and NOD Board Member Jack Patten, sponsored a series of conferences across the country to acquaint the business community with ADA requirements. The CEO Council is still working actively in corporate America, and includes corporate leaders such as Walmart, Xerox, and Sodexo.
Start on Success and the FDR Memorial
In 1994, NOD launched its student internship program, Start on Success, to help high school students in underprivileged communities gain paid internship experience to gain a foothold in the working world. Since its launch, Start on Success has more than doubled the odds that participating high-school students with disabilities will go on to further education or employment.
Beginning in 1995, NOD led a campaign to have a statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his wheelchair added to the FDR Memorial in Washington, organizing demonstrations and enlisting the support of FDR’s descendents, biographers, the media and the American public. Upon winning a Congressional mandate for the statue, NOD successfully raised $1.65 million for the new statue, which is now a popular landmark in the nation’s capital and an inspiration to visitors from throughout the world.
NOD’s Public Opinion Surveys
NOD’s public opinion surveys, conducted through Harris Interactive, have provided an essential baseline for the nation on disability issues, helping both to set goals and measure accomplishments. NOD has commissioned comprehensive surveys of the participation of people with disabilities in American life in 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2000, and 2004. The 2010 Kessler-NOD Surveys by Harris Interactive benchmarks employment, income, education, access to transportation, access to health care, political participation, and life satisfaction. The participation gaps identified by these surveys have guided NOD’s programs and have been used by many disability organizations, business leaders, legislators, government at all levels, and the news media to help understand disability issues.
Emergency Preparedness Program
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, NOD took the lead in ensuring that emergency planning of communities across the country includes people with disabilities, distributing thousands of emergency preparedness pamphlets and educating businesses on how they can best equip their employees with disabilities. When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans four years later, NOD’s Emergency Preparedness Initiative was in place to quickly respond to the needs of people with disabilities.
A New Focus
With the death of Alan Reich in 2005, NOD lost its founder and the disability community lost a tremendous advocate and inspirational leader. But the great work he started at NOD continues, and with the focus on employability that he initiated in his final years.
In 2006, with the leadership of the Kessler Foundation, NOD began to expand its work in the employment arena, which now comprises 80 percent of our program work. As increasing numbers of service members returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious injuries, NOD concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with the US Army in 2007 to launch the Wounded Warrior Careers Demonstration, which today provides career supports to hundreds of severely injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. NOD has also expanded its Start on Success (SOS) program and launched Bridges to Business to help corporate America recruit, hire, and retain talented employees with disabilities. These efforts have helped NOD to focus its work on employment and careers for people with disabilities in the United States.
In 2009, the NOD Board unanimously adopted a Strategic Plan, focused on expanding NOD’s demonstration programs and building on our work with businesses and the military. A key element of the plan is using metrics and data to evaluate results, and communicating what we learn to a broad audience for large-scale impact.
In 2010 NOD devoted its efforts to:
- Mining the data we’re collecting through the Wounded Warrior Career Demonstration while seeking to expand this program in length and geography.
- Undertaking two new Harris Surveys in partnership with Kessler Foundation—one will focus on employment, the other on the gaps in quality of life between people with disabilities and those without.
- Launching Bridges to Business demonstration programs with several major employers.
- Bringing new resources to Start on Success internship sites to help them expand the number of students they serve, as well as their service offerings.
- Starting the Return to Careers program to learn more about the career interests and support needs of veterans with disabilities, in an effort to ensure that they find success in the career marketplace.
- Sharing the lessons we’re learning from our work on the ground.
America still has a long way to go to close the gaps in levels of participation between people with and without disabilities. But the landscape has changed dramatically, and much has been accomplished over the last three decades. More than ever before, people with disabilities are present throughout American society—carrying on their daily lives as workers, consumers, students, neighbors, and volunteers—and contributing greatly to our national and community life.
NOD is proud to have been at the center of this progress and is committed to a better life for all people with disabilities. And, like people with disabilities throughout America, we look forward to even greater progress in the decades ahead.