National Disability Employment Awareness Month event highlights workplace inclusivity
In celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), the Virginia Tech community gathered for a keynote session and panel discussion of best practices for fostering inclusive workplaces on Oct. 17.
Participants learned strategies for facilitating individual growth among their teams and equipping colleagues to support their own well-being.
“By observing NDEAM, we remind our community of the positive day-to-day impact of creating environments in which everyone can thrive,” said Pam Vickers, director of ADA and Accessibility Services in the Office for Equity and Accessibility. “Drawing upon our unique perspectives and abilities drives our individual growth and our progress as an institution.”
This year’s event featured a keynote address from Catarina Rivera, founder of Blindish Latina, and a panel discussion including Vickers and four other university employees:
- Alicia Cohen, director of diversity programs in the Office for Inclusion and Diversity
- Joe Cooley, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) campus architect
- Mark Nichols, senior director of universal design and accessible technologies for Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies
- Kelly Stulce, project manager for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute
Raksha Sharma, ADA accommodations and outreach specialist, served as moderator.
Rivera’s remarks focused on the significance of inclusive managers and colleagues, providing attendees with an understanding of disability inclusion and barriers that could hinder its realization within the workplace. To leaders, she emphasized the importance of psychological safety, validation, and advocacy for team members. Participants also learned accessibility practices related to their areas of focus and examined the importance of avoiding microaggressions and ableist language.
“Everyone in the university community plays a role in creating a supportive atmosphere that enables individuals of all abilities to reach their full potential,” Sharma said. “The keynote session provided valuable insights into disability inclusion – starting with the idea that effective workplace leadership and teamwork are rooted in understanding and support.”
During the panel discussion, attendees also learned about Virginia Tech’s accessibility challenges and initiatives toward inclusivity, ranging from the limitations of older buildings and wayfinding to the university’s barrier reporting system and shared commitment to creating accessible digital content.
Other campus activities geared toward increasing disability inclusion awareness include the Office of Inclusion and Diversity’s recent educational events with expert speakers and workshops on neurodiversity, accessible communications, and inclusive pedagogy.
Hosted annually by the ADA and Accessibility Services team, the National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebration educates the community and provides tools for supporting individuals with disabilities at the university and beyond. At the national level, the month is organized by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy. The 2023 observance marked the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Watch this year’s Virginia Tech NDEAM panel discussion online.