Celebrate Disability Pride Month: A Little Means So Much

Celebrate Disability Pride Month: A Little Means So Much

Thomas Edison. Stephen Hawking. Esther Vergeer. Do you know what all these individuals have in common, other than being famous for their remarkable contributions to society? They were all disabled in one way or another. But, despite their disabilities, they persevered, paving the way for what we now recognize as Disability Pride Month!

Disability Pride Month is celebrated every July to commemorate the passing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in July 1990. This law extends civil rights protections to persons with disabilities, or those who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life and enables their full participation in society. It encompasses all aspects of their lives so they can have equal opportunities for working, going to school, using public and private transportation services, voting, buying goods and services or accessing public places.

This month, we have the opportunity to honor the history, achievements, experiences and struggles of the disability community. As stated before, people with disabilities make historic contributions to music, science, sports and technology. We talked about Thomas Edison, “father of the lightbulb,” who lost his hearing. Physicist Stephen Hawking, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, changed the way we look at the universe. And professional wheelchair tennis player, Esther Vergeer, set amazing records throughout her sporting career. Just to name a few, she won 695 singles matches and lost only 25. And for almost 10 years straight, she was undefeated.

Visible vs. Invisible Disabilities

The term “disability” covers a wide range of impairments, which fall into two different categories: visible and invisible. “Visible” disabilities include any visible indicator that a person has as disability. That indicator can be an assistive device, a particular set of actions, a communication method, a physical feature or something else. There are also “invisible” disabilities, which have none of these obvious indicators. An individual with an invisible disability can be just as impacted by their condition, even though you can’t see it. Some examples of these disabilities are learning differences, ADHD, autism, psychiatric disabilities, diabetes, some vision and hearing deficiencies, chronic pain and many others.

Honoring Disabilities in Our Credit Unions

As credit unions, the question we ponder during Disability Pride Month is how do we create a place where employees or members with disabilities feel they belong?

As employers, we must be compliant with ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment and other areas. In the workplace, though, disability inclusion goes far beyond the minimum compliance standard and is an important component to any credit union’s success.

To create a welcoming environment, add disability inclusion to your policies and values to make it clear that respect and empathy are essential to your credit union. And make sure that everyone is aware of the accommodations and resources available. Some accommodations are more obvious – like the addition of ramps and/or elevators in your office space, equipment for someone who has a visual impairment, reserved parking for employees with disabilities or wheelchair-friendly bathrooms.

Other accommodations may not be quite as obvious and can be curated to meet the specific needs of individuals. Does someone on your team have a learning disability that makes it challenging for them to read typed notes if they missed a meeting? Offer to take a video or audio recording of the session for that person to get the meeting content at a later time. Does someone manage chronic pain and need time to attend regular treatments or appointments? Look at modifying their work schedule so they have more flexibility. Think about all of the ways you can be creative and thoughtful to meet the needs of your employees and members with disabilities.

Recognizing & Addressing Mental Health Disabilities

Some invisible disabilities are associated with mental health disorders, which unfortunately, can lead to misunderstandings, false perceptions and judgements. Almost 10 percent of American adults suffer from depression and an estimated 31 percent of adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. These numbers are even higher at 50 percent for young adults, those ages 18-24 years old, who report having symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. We’re learning that individuals facing challenges with depression and anxiety, and the symptoms of those conditions, can have real and ongoing effects to both our mental and physical health.

It's important to prioritize our mental wellness and practice regular self-care to improve our physical and psychological health, manage and reduce stress, recognize and meet our own emotional needs, improve relationships and achieve balance in various areas of our lives. We often think “self-care” means long, quiet meditation sessions, going to a yoga class or getting a massage. Although these activities can have a profound impact on our mental wellbeing, there are also an infinite number of simple actions we can do every day that don’t take much time or money and just make us feel good – like wearing our favorite color, prioritizing sleep, taking regular breaks from work, getting exercise each day (even if it’s a slow walk or gentle stretching!), going outside and maintaining social connections.

Doing More for Disabilities

Throughout July, I encourage you to learn more about the disabilities that people have, and honor and recognize the contributions people with disabilities have made to our nation and the world. Think about ways your credit union can be more disability inclusive and then take action! This month is a great time to solicit feedback from your employees and members, enact a new policy, implement a needed accommodation or share self-care resources. In the words of Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Want to know how to bring more DEI initiatives like this to your credit union? Erin will be hosting a DEI in the Workplace webinar on August 22, 2023, at 10:00 a.m. ET. Get all the webinar details, including registration information, on the event page or visit www.vfccu.org.

Erin Doan is the diversity, equity and inclusion director for Vizo Financial. She is responsible for developing and implementing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and community involvement strategies and programs that foster an environment of inclusivity and collaboration amongst staff, business partners and natural person credit unions. Erin has held various roles with the Corpoate since 2002 and is a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE).