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NEWS | Oct. 31, 2016

National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates inclusion

By Justin Zaun DCMA Garden City

GARDEN CITY, N.Y., Oct. 31, 2016 — October was National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an observance designed to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

For Steven Pipia, a quality assurance specialist here, the month was an opportunity to reflect on the challenges those with disabilities are able to overcome. Pipia, who has a hearing disability, admits he faces challenges throughout the day, but he is still able to perform his job duties.

“Living with a disability may be daunting at times and can often be a significant challenge when working in unison with others,” he said. “But a person with a disability has a driving force to work harder. That is what makes them successful, and it has nothing to do with their disability. People with disabilities are just as capable of contributing to the mission as anyone else, and we are just as passionate.”

One of the biggest challenges, he said, is conveying technical terminology without the use of email or the written word. In those instances, he relies on resourcefulness to ensure clear communication.

“As a quality assurance specialist, face-to-face interactions with coworkers and suppliers are a major factor in the success of our operations, and as a deaf individual, I seldom find colleagues or contractors who know sign language,” he said. “However, communication entails adopting different means to get my message across. Whether it be a few laughs with co-workers or correspondence with a supplier, the relationships I create are founded on clarity and good communication.”

Marina Racz-Distler, management assistant, also has a hearing disability. She said the key to overcoming any communication issue is establishing a rapport with colleagues.

“I have a good working relationship with my coworkers,” she said. “Many of them understand I have special needs so they are patient with me when necessary. Any challenge or obstacle can be overcome with the proper attitude and a little faith.”

Both Pipia and Racz-Distler leverage technology, such as a video relay service, to ease communication with supervisors, colleagues and contractors. VRS is a video telecommunication service that allows deaf, hard-of-hearing, and speech-impaired employees to communicate over video telephones or webcams in real time via a sign-language interpreter.

“This is a great service that I use frequently,” Racz-Distler said. “I even have an app on my phone.”

The history of National Disability Employment Awareness Month dates back to 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Pipia, who has more than 25 years of experience and education in the quality assurance career field, said the primary component in building professional relationships and practicing inclusion is empathy.

“The greatest tool in anyone’s arsenal is the capacity to be empathetic toward others,” he said. “Because of my disability, some tend to overlook my proficiency and underestimate my intelligence. At times, others are reluctant to approach me although I’m very friendly. Having an understanding of someone’s disability and what it’s like to walk in their shoes can pave the way to making the professional environment both productive and enjoyable.”

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