A Conversation on National Disability Employment Awareness Month – Creating better advocacy for one another in the workplace, whether you’re disabled or not.
October marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month—or NDEAM—a U.S. holiday founded in the 1970s by the Department of Labor to recognize the contributions disabled people make in the workplace. While recognizing our contributions is very nice and good, I’d love to take this opportunity to slow down and give some practical advice on how anyone can be a better advocate in the workplace for members of the disability community. With stories as varied and unique as the disabilities we live with, there is always room to find new ways of supporting each other and creating the accessible world we deserve!
Joining me in this conversation is PG's very own Abigail Schulte, who lives with a disability herself, but is also a passionate advocate for her brother. Whether you can relate to navigating your own disability or are an able-bodied ally, this conversation aims to share how we can each live into our core values of inclusion by being better allies to disabled people in the workplace, and beyond.
Q&A on Disability Employment Awareness Month
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your brother?
I have sensorineural hearing loss and you can't see it because I have hearing aids that are very, very small and you just can't tell based on who I am, how I act, and what you see on me. I could talk about my disability, but I'm so much more passionate about someone who I'm very close with a sibling who I've lived my whole life with. My brother has autism, and watching him go through life and seeing how some people just don't quite understand why he is the way he is can get very frustrating. Watching him come out of his shell to a place where he feels comfortable and he can be who he is without judgment has been amazing to see cause growing up, he didn't have a lot of allies.
One thing with people with autism is they can have trouble with empathy communication or trouble understanding human interaction. From the outside perspective, he can come off as very cold and mean, but it's just because he thinks differently. His previous employer didn't really understand the way his brain worked and why he kind of thought that and they kind of yelled at him about it and that's not good to do either. And he left. There's such a gap between people and what they perceive are disability to be and what it actually is sometimes.
Now that my brother found something that he loves, it makes me happy for him. He plays in a band called New Barktown. They’re on Spotify!
What does disability inclusion at the workplace mean to you?
My brother taught me how to do that with my hearing loss, especially having the fear of being rejected a little bit for it or the fear of not being good enough because I can't do certain things as well as what other people could be doing. My brother has overcome a lot of that, especially with his fear of socializing. He's done so like he's really encouraged me to, like, keep moving, keep going. If you feel like you can't do something, prove people wrong because you are always going to figure out a way around it no matter what.
I feel like a lot of people who are impacted by autism need an ERG (employee resource group) because you have so many different experiences because you're watching this person go through this, and sometimes you just need to talk about it.
Is there a time you felt particularly empowered and how does PG cultivate that empowerment?
When I was in the 4th grade, just after I got my hearing aids, one of the teachers usually didn't wear the headset. Have you ever been to a school where a teacher will bring a headset? That's common for someone who has a hearing impairment and they were wearing headphones instead because I was just disinclined by having to be the only kid to wear headphones. One of my friends in the 4th Grade Little League got a group of girls to start wearing the headphones with me and that was like my favorite thing ever.
One thing that I appreciate about PG, with all of my things going on in my life in terms of disability is, that when I lived at home, if my brother needed something because he needed that support, I was always right there to be able to assist. If I needed to, I could always step away if something was going on.
How can companies do better to be inclusive of people with disabilities?
I wish there could be some more empathy and more understanding behind mental health disabilities because I feel like a lot of people still have the mindset that you can just turn it off, just shut it down, or wish it away. And especially watching my brother go through the work environment, I feel bad because it's so hard for him. I hope companies start to understand people who are neurodivergent.
The more awareness is spread, the more we can get people resources. I think that's amazing that here at PG we spread awareness about different causes. Any company or individual can be more inclusive by raising awareness—literally just to educate people on it and allow people to openly talk about it. The more you're exposed, the more you start to understand. It's cool to be able to share the different types of experiences that someone faces, especially coming from someone who has a disability.
Something that people could easily do is go on TikTok and there are multiple people and pages that will openly talk about what it’s like to live with autism their whole life and how it impacts them in different ways because it's never the same for one.
Thank you so much to Abigail!
Thanks Abigail for having this conversation with me and bringing more awareness around NDEAM! Disability isn’t always visible and our community is made up of people who each have their own story of adapting and surviving. It’s important that we tune into these voices all year long and continue learning how we can be better allies to disabled people. Together we can change our society, which limits our access and creates the equity gap we face, but listening. One story at a time.