Lift Every Voice – National Disability Employment Awareness Month

During October, we commemorate National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) by reflecting on the many contributions employees with disabilities have made to STEM fields, the arts, and all parts of society. Additionally, we observe NDEAM to remember that we have a shared responsibility to ensure that all citizens, including individuals with significant disabilities, are given reasonable accommodations and equitable opportunities for work and community involvement.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month

1. Why do you think it’s important to ensure that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement opportunities? 

Hilary Lentz, Digital Communications Manager: To put it simply, people with disabilities are people just like everyone else, so I think it's important that we give reasonable accommodations where we can to create equitable opportunities so that people with disabilities don't have to be held back from employment opportunities and being involved in their communities. I think it's only fair, and I think that people with disabilities bring their unique perspectives to situations, which is important to have as well.

Scott Sibley, Chief of Operations, Transit & Rail Corporate Business Group: All of us have aspects of our lives, or times in our lives, where we are not at the same ability as everyone else, so when we design for people with disabilities, we're designing for all of us. When I was in high school, I had a knee injury, and the principal gave me a key to use the elevator. This was an accommodation for people with disabilities, but it was also beneficial for me at that time. 

When you're walking on the sidewalk, and you're pulling your luggage, or you're pushing a stroller, or maybe you're moving a refrigerator on a hand truck, you benefit from the curb cut ramps that were put there for people with disabilities. Gallaudet University is a school for the deaf, and in the 1890s, they were playing football against the New York School for the Deaf and the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (yes, the deaf schools had a football league). The teams communicated using American Sign Language, and that was out there for everybody to see. The Gallaudet team was concerned that the other team they were playing was understanding their plays, so the quarterback called the team together into a circle so that the other team couldn't see what they were communicating. And the football huddle was created. This accommodation that was invented for people with disabilities is now important for everybody to use. 

Sometimes an accommodation that we create for one disability can cause trouble for another. A ramp is beneficial for a wheelchair to get up and past stairs, but a person who has a stamina problem and can't walk a long distance is not benefited by the ramp. When we do our designs, we need to consider all the different kinds of disabilities, and we need to provide options to accommodate everyone.

Deb Wilhelm, Executive Assistant: Disabled people should be given the same opportunities everyone else is given regardless of disability. We all deserve to be active parts of the communities where we share our talents and gifts with each other, learn from each other, and live active lives.

2. Why are diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives important to you as a Gannett Fleming employee?

Hilary Lentz, Digital Communications Manager: They're important to me because I think that in order to be innovative and come up with solutions for not only today's problems but for tomorrow's, we need to have as many different people with different perspectives and different ideas coming to the table to help to develop those solutions.

Scott Sibley, Chief of Operations, Transit & Rail Corporate Business Group: All of us are different and unique, and we all have areas where we don't have the same abilities as everyone else. We need to humbly recognize that we learn from one another, and we grow as we struggle to overcome our disabilities.

Deb Wilhelm, Executive Assistant: I'm proud to be part of the Gannett Fleming family, and as that family, we’re inclusive to all humans. It is part of what makes our firm so special and part of our “secret sauce.”

3. Which iconic disabled person do you most admire for their contributions to the arts, sciences, or society as a whole and why?

Hilary Lentz, Digital Communications Manager:
 The person who I admire the most might not necessarily be iconic, but they’re somebody who I personally admire quite a lot, and that's my cousin Cody Bureau. He had a farming accident as a child and lost part of his arm, but he didn't let that hold him back from achieving his dreams, and his dream was to be an Olympic swimmer. He trained really hard through the early part of his life into his teenage years, and he was actually accepted to the Paralympic Team not once, not twice, but four times. And he is a bronze medalist, so I just think that's really admirable, and I think that he's a great person to look up to.

Scott Sibley, Chief of Operations, Transit & Rail Corporate Business Group: In 1920, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had just lost the election as vice president, and he was vacationing at his summer home. He contracted polio, and many people thought that this was the end of his political career because at that time, there were very little accommodations for people with disabilities. And in many cases, people with disabilities were not even accepted. But Roosevelt determined that he was not going to let his success be decided by his disability. He struggled, and he worked, and he put in the extra effort, and he made accommodations for himself just to be in the same room with others. 

In 1932, he was elected president. In that same year, my father contracted polio, and this 8-year-old boy saw that the president of the United States was struggling with the same disability that he had. So, he grew up with that example of someone overcoming their disabilities. Later, he saw that Roosevelt was driving a car even though he had paralyzed legs, so he wrote to him to ask how he could do this. He received information from the White House about the hand controls that were used to operate not just the brake but the clutch as well, and my father adopted those instructions and built accommodations for himself in every car that he owned. I think that Roosevelt is a great example of not allowing our disabilities to define our success but to overcome them and become everything that we can be.

Deb Wilhelm, Executive Assistant: Growing up, Michael J. Fox was a famous actor in several movies, including Back to the Future, and a TV show called Family Ties, which I watched. At the age of just 29, he revealed that he had Parkinson's Disease. He started a foundation called the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, and he has raised (or his foundation has raised) over $800 million to date, much of it already spent on Parkinson's Disease research. That's why he's one of my favorites.