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National Disability Employment Awareness Month

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)!

Next month marks the 34th annual observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Every October is a celebration "honoring the achievements and contributions of U.S. workers with disabilities."

This year's theme is "Disability: Part of the Equity Equation." This theme was chosen to raise awareness and reinforce the fact that "people with disabilities play a critical role in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across the workforce."

DEI and the College Campus

Senior staff writer Erik Cliburn of Insight Into Diversity, "spoke with several experts in higher education who advocate for people with disabilities, both in the classroom and in the workplace. They shared the importance of NDEAM, the challenges that people with disabilities still face, and their visions for a more equitable future in higher education."

Here are a few highlights from that conversation:

Why is it Important to Observe NDEAM in Higher Education?

"People continue to use a lot of deficit thinking in understanding disability, meaning we continue to be understood according to what we cannot do, rather than our talents, dreams, or promise. Disability is a creative challenge to architectural, educational, and cultural norms that should be changing more quickly than they are. I want to nudge the bar up a bit. Colleges and universities must aim to surpass accessibility as a technical standard and to be hospitable toward disabled students, staff, and faculty."

Tammy Berberi, PhD, is associate professor of French and disability studies at the University of Minnesota, Morris (UMN Morris). 

"At its core, higher education is about creating opportunity for individuals. U-M’s mission is to develop leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future. As higher education professionals, we have to recognize and be focused beyond the classroom at what comes next for a student."

Allen Sheffield is associate director of Student Accessibility and Accommodation Services at the University of Michigan (U-M).

What challenges do people with disabilities face at higher education institutions?

"While institutions of higher education are now investing in services and programs to recognize and support diversity and identity, they often overlook disability as one of the salient identities of students and employees."

"Another challenge institutions face is getting the chief diversity officers to ensure that the campus initiatives related to diversity include disability. At Cornell, SDS strongly believes that deconstructing ableism needs to be a part of the conversation around diversity, just like any other identity that faces barriers to access or participation."

Zebadiah Hall is the director of Student Disability Services at Cornell Health, Cornell University.

"The first is inaccessible online course materials. The second encompasses attitudinal barriers."

Katy Washington, JD, PhD, is director of the Office of Disability Access at the University of North Texas.

What can colleges and universities do to better support students, faculty, and staff with disabilities?

"Show us some love. Take us to lunch and cultivate community and warm connections around disabled experiences on your campus." 
Tammy Berberi

"We need to examine the environmental barriers that prevent disabled people from having access. Higher education was not designed with disabled people in mind, so we must think critically and creatively about how to build in access at this time." ~  Zebadiah Hall

"In my experience, services for staff and faculty access are often underfunded, decentralized, and understaffed when compared to resources for students." ~  Allen Sheffield

"Campuses can invest in workshops and professional development by utilizing organizations like AHEAD to inform faculty about best practices and responsibilities in providing an inclusive, accessible learning experience for students." ~  Katy Washington

Please read Insight into Diversity's "National Disability Employment Awareness Month". It is an essential read.

Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
Content Marketing Practitioner