Expanding the Concept of Diversity
The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC) was proud to host a panel with representatives from three of its partner organizations— AT&T, Kessler Foundation and American Foundation for the Blind—to discuss how the workplace can expand their diversity efforts to accommodate all employees, and in particular, for individuals with disabilities.
The panel was comprised of Susan Diegelman, Director of Federal Public Affairs for AT&T; Elaine Katz, Senior Vice President of Grants and Communications for the Kessler Foundation and Mark Richert, Director of Public Policy for the American Foundation for the Blind.
The panelists covered a wide range of topics centered around the themes of inclusion and diversity, such as self-disclosure of disabilities, how technology has leveled the playing field for persons with disabilities and the impact that being intentional about including persons with disabilities has had on their organizations.
Susan Diegelman talked about Employee Resource Groups and how they are readily available at small and large organizations to connect like-minded individuals. “Corporate Social Responsibility is a movement that started about 10 years ago. Employee Resource Groups and these kinds of communities are a part of that. They are at many companies, and offer a way for people to network within the company.”
When asked what challenges still remained for people with disabilities in the workplace, despite all the advances made through technology and advocacy, Elaine responded, “It’s way beyond technology—it’s attitudinal. We are still at the point where many companies are hiring more individuals with disabilities, and they seem like they are integrated, but they are still really in pockets within the company, and they are not fully integrated.”
Another student asked their advice for navigating invisible disabilities in the workplace. Mark responded “It’s a personal decision, and you have to be comfortable with it. If you are comfortable with it, you will handle it in a more natural and effective way.”
Mark also talked about how individuals with disabilities impose unrealistic expectations on themselves, saying “When you are a person with a disability, you have to get to a point where you don’t either think less of yourself or more of yourself than you should. Just because you are successful doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be speaking up and asking for help”.
This panel, and many other workshops and initiatives that are a part of the Leadership Initiative for Students with Disabilities, expanded disability awareness by informing students of the unique challenges that persons with disabilities face in the workplace, preparing them to become better advocates for diversity and inclusion.
TWC would like to thank AT&T, Kessler Foundation and the American Foundation for the Blind for supporting students in the Leadership Initiative for Students with Disabilities, helping TWC further its mission of providing exceptional learning opportunities to all students.