Empowering People with Disabilities

Staff Senate Disability Panel 2019

Even though NC State provides a wide range of services for both students and employees with disabilities, meeting and/or exceeding what federal and state legislation requires, reaching all the people who need these services can be challenging at our large, multi-faceted university.

The Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity, the Division of Academic and Student Affairs, and the Office of Information Technology all work together to provide information, guidance, resources and accommodations. OIED serves employees through its Equal Opportunity and Equity unit, DASA serves students through its Disability Resources Office and OIT serves the entire university in the areas of accessible technology and procurement.

Yet even with these comprehensive groups and services in place, many people who need them don’t know about them or even have a place where they can learn more, discuss issues and find community.

That’s where the Staff Senate decided they could make an impact.

Staff Senate Presents a Panel on Disabilities

Staff Senators Cecilia Dorado, a customer service representative in Transportation, and Melissa Jackson, assistant to the head of the English department, currently serve on the Staff Senate’s Diversity Committee as chair and vice chair, respectively.

With the senators on the committee all new this year, they had the opportunity to decide what they wanted to accomplish. To start, they volunteered during Diversity Education Week, an annual campus-wide week of workshops, lectures and programs coordinated by the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity in October.

They noticed that more could be done in the area of disabilities, not just looking at resources, but talking about what it’s like, day-to-day for people with disabilities, beyond basic things like ramps and etiquette.

As a three-time Equal Opportunity Institute graduate who has worked at NC State for over five years, Jackson has a strong grasp of the many areas of diversity and inclusion on campus. “We needed a way for people to tell their stories, and for experts to share where to go and how to get the resources they need,” she says. With so many potential topics, they thought it could be an ongoing campus conversation.

With the support of OIED Interim Vice Provost Sheri Schwab, they decided to host a panel on January 17, 2019, bringing in Crystal Tenan, NC State’s IT accessibility coordinator, Equal Opportunity Officer Carley Dix and Director of Disability Resources Mark Newmiller. The panel also featured two employees with vision or hearing disabilities who could provide additional expertise on those topics, David Gregory, assistant director of Parking Services and Leah Seabury, food service technician in Case Dining Hall.

Providing Key Information

With a full attendance of about thirty, the panel succeeded in bringing people together and providing critical information. Some attendees noted that they weren’t aware of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 — enacted a full decade ago — that broadened the definition of disability and strengthened protections against discrimination. Others learned that they could request accommodations again even though their initial request was denied. One attendee said he felt supported and hoped there would be more panels.

Guide dog“My goal for the panel was to get involvement from people outside the Staff Senate. We had a fantastic turnout, double the people we expected. There definitely is a need to have this at least once a year to help promote change,” says Dorado. “We had representation from over 20 different departments on campus, showing that it’s not just one or two departments but an issue that is spread out across the university.”

On the success of the panel, Jackson says, “To me, the panel had a good balance between providing resources and allowing people to share their stories — it was both a support group and an information session.”

Next Panel on Non-Traditional Parenting

The Staff Senate Diversity Committee’s efforts continue with a panel on non-traditional parents on April 11, 2019 from 10:00-11:30 a.m. in Witherspoon Student Center, Room 126, focusing on many non-traditional parenting roles, such as foster parents, adoptive parents, grandparents raising children, single parents, GLBT-identifying parents and parents of children with special needs.

“As a Hispanic female, I have always been drawn to diversity groups and try to be involved in diversity efforts, such as this committee. We want to make sure we leave a legacy for the Diversity Committee to continue that serves different needs across campus and addresses issues to make people feel included,” says Dorado.

Jackson’s guiding principles provide a model for anyone working to advance inclusion on campus, especially in areas not typically in the foreground. “The things that make us diverse are not always obvious. Everyone has their own set of abilities and challenges that we don’t always know about. My hope is that we can approach everyone with compassion and understanding, and provide opportunities for them to share their stories in meaningful ways. There are so many voices that need to be heard and validated.”

Useful Links from the Disability Panel

Elizabeth Snively writes for the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity.