National Disability Employment Awareness Month: An Important Observance & Anniversary

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October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), and this year is its 75th year in existence. It’s also the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With these landmark anniversaries in mind, we spoke to one GDIT employee, Tracy Allison, about what disability awareness means, why it matters and how it comes to life for her every day.

Deaf since she was 18 months old, Tracy says she’s seen a shift in how people view those with special needs. In the early days of her career, she dealt with managers who didn’t understand how to include her in team-building exercises, for example, or who were unwilling to advocate for her so that she could receive the relay services and accommodations she needed. She says she felt isolated and left out.

Today, she is a Subcontracts Administrator in our Federal Civilian Subcontracts department. She makes regular use of her video phone, a sign language interpreter, and closed captions. Recently, when a training session lacked closed captioning, she worked with her managers to fix the issue.

“It shows they care – I love that they take my needs and perspective into account,” Tracy shared. Of her managers, Carmela Roberts and director Andrew Hinkle, Tracy says they’ve prioritized her needs well. They make sure she has enough time to engage an interpreter for meetings and are always asking what they can do better.

Like many people, she works from her Virginia home office these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She actually finds it to be a blessing in disguise: she feels as if she’s on equal footing while working from home. Skype and Zoom meetings make it easier for hearing people to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing people.

Tracy and other deaf employees at GDIT have formed the AbilityFirst Employee Resource Group (ERG). Tracy says she has started to speak up more at these meetings, telling us, “Initially, I held back because I’m self-conscious about my grammar but I’m starting to feel more comfortable, especially after we had a meeting focused on deaf and hard of hearing employees,” Tracy stated.

She wants people – at GDIT and outside it – to know: “Anyone of us, deaf or not, can communicate. We may need more patience – the key, in fact, is to be patient because we want to work with you and talk with you.”

That’s great advice we can all take to heart. Thanks, Tracy.

Learn more about the accessibility and accommodations at GDIT.

Learn more about NDEAM and the U.S. Department of Labor’s FutureWorks initiative and how you can get involved.