Our Story

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 four decades since our founding. 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. The National Organization on Disability is proud to have been at the center of this progress and is committed to even greater advancements in the decades ahead.


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, DC, and formed the National Office on Disability to continue the momentum towards the UN’s goal. Alan A. Reich was appointed to lead the new organization, and the following year the name was changed to the National Organization on Disability (NOD).


NOD’s public opinion surveys, conducted by 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, 2004 and 2010. The 2010 Kessler-NOD Survey was the first to benchmark employment equality, along with community participation. 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.


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. Renamed in 2016, the NOD Corporate Leadership Council is still working actively in corporate America, and includes corporate leaders such as Walmart, Xerox, and Sodexo.


In 1994, NOD launched its student internship program, Start on Success, to help high school students in underprivileged communities gain paid internship experience and achieve a foothold in the working world. Start on Success alumni went on to further education or employment opportunities at more than double the rate of their peers.


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 descendants, 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.


Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, NOD took the lead in ensuring that emergency planning in communities across the country included provisions for people with disabilities. NOD distributed thousands of emergency preparedness pamphlets and educated businesses on how they could 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.


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 continued with a 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. NOD expanded its Start on Success (SOS) program and launched signature employment programs to help corporate America recruit, hire, and retain talented employees with disabilities and to provide career supports to severely injured and disabled veterans.


As increasing numbers of service members returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious injuries, NOD and the US Army signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2007 to launch the Wounded Warrior Careers Demonstration, which provided career support to hundreds of severely injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.


Beginning as a pilot program called Bridges to Business, NOD has worked to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities by forging more effective links between employers and organizations that represent jobseekers with disabilities. NOD developed an industry-standard model to help companies recruit, hire, and retain individuals with disabilities by matching their abilities to locally available positions. In the years since, NOD has become a trusted partner to over a dozen leading brands, such as Lowe’s and Toys“R”Us, seeking to expand the diversity of their workforce and gain a competitive edge in the race for talent.


NOD partnered with the National Business and Disability Council (NBDC) at The Viscardi Center and Sirota to develop and debut a tool for companies to confidentially assess their disability and veteran employment practices. The Disability Employment Tracker™ introduced in 2013 with lead support from the Exelon Foundation and guidance from research firm J.D. Power, helps companies identify opportunities to improve their employment practices and reap the benefits of an inclusive workforce. In 2014, DiversityInc announced that it would require companies to complete the Disability Employment Tracker™ for consideration for its Top 50 Companies Diversity List.


Recent federal regulations mandating the inclusion of workers with disabilities into federal contractors’ workforce has elevated the issue of disability employment to corporate board rooms and the C-Suite. In response, NOD has launched a suite of services designed to help companies tap into the talent pool of working-age people with disabilities. From assessing policies and procedures to strategy and roadmap development, NOD is ready to help companies launch or grow a disability employment initiative, no matter where they are in their disability-inclusion journey. And we applaud those that are leading the way through the annual awarding of the NOD Leading Disability Employer Seal™.

NOD President Carol Glazer is often called on by government leaders and the media to discuss the reality of disability in America today. While NOD Chairman Gov. Tom Ridge recently released an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal advocating for passage of a UN disability treaty. These efforts have solidified NOD’s place as a thought leader within the disability field, and as a trusted advisor to companies seeking to bring disability-inclusion into the nation’s workforce.


In response to a bleak national employment outlook facing college graduates with disabilities, NOD launched the Campus to Careers program to bring higher education professionals and employers together in Boston, to both identify more employment opportunities for students with disabilities and to develop new methods of college recruiting to address the issue long-term.


Launched in October 2018 with a billboard in New York City’s Times Square, the Look Closer campaign is breaking down the stigma of disability, and recasting Americans with disabilities as a capable and untapped talent pool – ready, willing and able to supply the ingenuity needed in the 21st century.