October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which provides education about disability employment issues and recognizes the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month was formalized with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Every year, the U.S. Office of Disability and Employment Policy designates a theme to encourage continued advocacy during National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The theme for NDEAM 2021 is, America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion, which “reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
WSU Vancouver identifies, addresses and advocates the elimination of barriers for people of historically underrepresented communities in general, and people with disabilities specifically, including WSU Vancouver students, staff and faculty. These efforts directly align with WSU Vancouver’s strategic imperative, Goal 4: to promote an ethical and socially just society through an intentional commitment to inclusion, equity and diversity. Toward this end, as the campus community continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, WSU Vancouver recognizes NDEAM (also referred to as Disability Awareness Month), and strives daily to make campus a more inclusive, accessible and hospitable place for students, faculty, staff and community partners, including individuals with disabilities.
The WSU Vancouver Access Center provides a variety of services and academic accommodations for more than 130 students with documented disabilities, psychological or medical conditions, or temporary injuries. Approved accommodations include sign language translators in the classroom, notetaking services, real-time captioning, textbooks in braille, accessible formats for instructional materials, alternative testing options, and accessible furniture in classrooms and student spaces.
Universal Design initiatives include faculty, library and technical collaborations to make instructional materials accessible for all students such as closed-captioning of videos, recordings of lectures, and sharing notes and content in accessible formats. WSU Vancouver practices Universal Design principles at most university-sponsored events including real-time captioning at large events, enhanced-print documents and amplified sound for presenters. Improving access for people of all abilities has been part of the Universal Design efforts, which include adding assistive listening systems as part of the current AV standards in classrooms.
Fostering a campus community that is welcoming and seamless across differences, the WSU Vancouver Accessibility Council facilitates a campus community where people with disabilities, and those who identify as disabled, have equitable, inclusive and full participation in all campus activities, services and programs. In addition to culturally responsive events and equity-minded enrichment sessions during this month and throughout the year, the Accessibility Council has also made restroom doors more accessible; increased the number of accessible parking spaces; improved accessible paths and curb access on campus; made website improvements for screen readers; launched the Accessible Information Management System; upgraded campus signage; and increased the number of students registered with the campus Access Center.
As the WSU Vancouver campus community continues to move through this time of COVID, there is much more to do to realize an accessible and welcoming campus. Take moments to reflect and consider your current practices to empower people with disabilities, including students, staff, faculty, and external partners. This month and beyond, activate your advocacy for change and join WSU Vancouver in building a community of equity, inclusion, accessibility and belonging.