Throughout October, the UA community is observing Disability Awareness Month, a time for raising awareness of employment needs and celebrating the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.
This year’s theme is “Disability: Part of the Equity Equation”, which is about creating spaces and emphasizing that the disabled community should always be included in discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion. The theme holds great importance to accommodation specialist Allison Johnson of the Office of Accommodation and Accessibility.
“When we are recognized under that umbrella, it highlights that making our society more accessible is important in all situations,” saidJohnson who was born with Moebius Syndrome.
Johnson hopes that Disability Awareness Month will serve to benefit those who are and are not a part of the disabled community. To students with disabilities, this month serves to create visibility and allows them to share their experiences, she said. However, it is also an opportunity to educate those not part of the disabled community on how to create inclusive environments.
Disability Awareness Month events kicked off on Oct. 3 with a “Neurodiversity in the Workplace” webinar. Adam Lalor from Landmark College in Vermont, which is specifically geared toward students with learning disabilities, conducted the webinar and discussed strategies for accessible and inclusive organizations.
“There’s nothing really good or bad about neurodiversity,” Lalor explained at the beginning of the webinar. “It’s a continuation of differences.”
After presenting an overview of neurodiversity, Lalor encouraged supervision within companies, calling it the key to accessibility.
“Neurodivergent people are capable of working and being productive members of society,” Lalor said. “They offer skills and talents that contribute to the workplace in big and small ways. I view supervision as a low-cost way to work towards an inclusive environment.”
The next Disability Awareness Month event was a viewing of the documentary “Crip Camp” on Tuesday, Oct. 11 in the Arkansas Union Theater. The movie is about the origin of the Disability Rights movement, and after the movie there was a panel from students and staff with disabilities.
There were two Zoom presentations this week. Melanie Thorton from PARTNERS for Inclusive Communities presented Tuesday on PDF and Advertising Accessibility, and Brittany Knowles from the company Getting Hired presented on disability etiquette training Thursday.
The final event of the month will be the Disability Awards Recognition and Awards ceremony Oct. 27. This event is important to both Johnson and director of accommodation and accessibility services J’onnelle Colbert-Diaz, who said the celebration recognizes campus community members whose efforts create a sense of belonging for all individuals.
“It’s important to hear about what’s going on in the world and the workplace, but it’s more important to highlight individuals on our campus who have been advocates of accessibility,” Cobert-Diaz said. “We want people to recognize the human component of it.”
Johnson has also created her own workshop, entitled “Accessible Attitudes,” which she will present for the campus Oct. 24. The workshop will examine the daily experiences and struggles of those with disabilities. Johnson has a list of questions prepared to discuss, including about the difficulties of caring for a family member with a disability.
“I think before asking these questions it's important to emphasize that no one is the villain in this story,” Johnson said. “We are all here to learn because when we know better, we can do better.”
People who wish to attend the “Accessible Attitudes” workshop or the Disability Awards Recognition and Awards ceremony can register for these events on the UA calendar website.
“Hopefully, they will teach others about that knowledge so accessibility will not be the exception but the norm,” Johnson said.