Each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) provides an opportunity to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “Advancing Access and Equity.” Valerie Ellis, LMI senior consultant, project management, and Rachel Owens, LMI consultant, management strategy, share their inspiring stories of perseverance and the importance of a disability-inclusive culture.
Valerie Ellis, Sr. Consultant, Project Management
In celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the theme for this year, "Advancing Access and Equity," holds immense personal significance for me. As someone who has personally experienced the challenges and barriers faced by individuals with disabilities in the workforce, I deeply understand the importance of increasing access and opportunity for all individuals, regardless of their abilities. As someone with a disability, I have faced numerous challenges and barriers to employment. From inaccessible work environments to prejudiced attitudes, the journey to finding meaningful employment has been arduous.
I have persevered and refused to let my disability define my abilities. I get comments that I do not look like I am disabled. I have more than one disability, I suffer, and I face unique challenges in the workplace. I have lupus, an immune system disorder with a lot of pain that is not often seen by others. I have permanent physical limitations and face daily challenges in navigating the workplace. I have permanent nerve damage in my leg and feet that affects my mobility and ability to stand for long periods of time.
Through my personal experiences, I have realized the value of increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Access to employment is not just about monetary benefits; it goes beyond that. Inclusion in the workforce can have non-financial advantages such as increased self-efficacy, alleviation of isolation, and skill development.
Despite these challenges, I have found support and understanding from LMI, which maintains a disability-inclusive mindset. LMI has shown that disability-inclusive hiring practices not only benefit individuals with disabilities but also contribute to improved productivity at the employee and organizational levels. Their awareness of the valuable contributions that individuals with disabilities can make to the workforce has led them to go beyond the minimum legal requirements of anti-discrimination laws and create a disability-inclusive culture in their thinking, policies, and operations.
I personally admire LMI as an employer who has opened up the doors to individuals with disabilities like me, making a genuine commitment to increasing access and opportunity for individuals with disabilities. Not only have they provided equal access to job opportunities, but they have also created an environment that fosters inclusivity and encourages the development of skills. Their commitment to diversity and inclusion is evident in their hiring practices, as well as in the ongoing support and resources they offer to employees with disabilities.
I personally admire LMI as an employer who has opened up the doors to individuals with disabilities like me, making a genuine commitment to increasing access and opportunity for individuals with disabilities. Not only have they provided equal access to job opportunities, but they have also created an environment that fosters inclusivity and encourages the development of skills.
Rachel Owens, Consultant, Management Strategy
My story is dedicated to women and all people who present or identify as feminine and make it through childhood and even adulthood without an ADHD or other beneficial neurodevelopmental diagnosis. The flurry of studies starting from 2013 that look at ADHD, specifically in women, share that anywhere between 40–75% of women with ADHD go undiagnosed. One perhaps unsurprising effect of this finding is that accessing treatment, support and workplace accommodations can be harder than for those who are diagnosed.
During my career, I’ve always been drawn to affinity groups or employee resource groups led by the disabled community and raised the microphone for people with disabilities. Back then, I didn’t have the language or understanding to explain why I was interested in these spaces other than 1) I love challenging my assumptions about the world and 2) something about being around people with disabilities felt comforting. I was so curious about how people around me (and often people I looked up to) navigated this life despite the fact that, many times over, our society actively and intentionally excludes people who have varying abilities.
This year, I began to understand the blame and negative self-talk I’ve inflicted upon myself for so long. With a formal diagnosis, I learned that I had ADHD, which the Perelman School of Medicine describes as a “developmental disorder affecting the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which controls executive functions and other self-regulatory processes—cognitive abilities that allow people to control and orchestrate thoughts and actions.” My various professional and personal challenges started to actually make sense for the very first time. In my healing journey, I have found that my ADHD serves me well in fast-paced environments. I can absorb and manage high degrees of detail and be incredibly empathetic. However, these traits, which often overlap with other sensory processing conditions such as ASD, also cause me to struggle with motivation/focus, the way my emotions present are often misunderstood, and I’m more prone to burnout than others. Even in a short time, that realization and acceptance of who I am has allowed me to give myself grace in all the places where I once planted and nurtured my shame.
And still, every day, I’m learning something new about how my brain functions differently from those who are neurotypical. I’m grateful that LMI is a genuinely safe space to connect with my peers to discuss disability, including neurodiversity. Many of us who are neurodivergent do what we can to get by or “fly under the radar.” It is refreshing to not only be accepted for who I am and talk about it with my colleagues, but I also feel encouraged to advise our LMI leaders on best inclusion practices, especially in neurodiversity. My brain might be unusual, but it is uniquely mine, and I’m proud of how I can creatively solve challenges placed in front of me.
It is refreshing to not only be accepted for who I am and talk about it with my colleagues, but I also feel encouraged to advise our LMI leaders on best inclusion practices, especially in neurodiversity. My brain might be unusual, but it is uniquely mine, and I’m proud of how I can creatively solve challenges placed in front of me.
For deeper explanations of the terminology I’ve used, I recommend this Neurodiversity Glossary from Diversity Project.