By Stacey ReeseNovember 5, 2019
Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's Equal Employment Office hosted a series of lunch and learns on Wednesdays in October to discuss the impact of neurological conditions on the workforce, in conjunction with National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In commemoration of this year's theme, "Don't Set Limits on Unlimited Potential," the group took an introspective assessment of the invisible disabilities surrounding neurological conditions and diseases.
Col. Scott Preston, Commander, Tulsa District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, highlighted the importance of the month, saying "The awareness event is observed to reaffirm our commitment to ensuring equal opportunity for all citizens so we may pay tribute to the accomplishments of men and women with disabilities who contributed, continue to contribute and wish to contribute to making the nation's economy strong."
For the "lunch and learns", the focus explored several conditions of the nervous system such as Parkinson's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, strokes and the less familiar frontotemporal dementia. Those attending the Wednesday sessions heard from speakers who gave employers perspectives on tackling challenges and achieving success for employees with disabilities, while also providing information on resources for those in need of services.
Danielle Morrison, MS navigator with the National MS Society, talked about her own journey with MS, beginning with her diagnosis at age 22 and how she has turned that diagnosis into a journey to help others by connecting constituents to healthcare professionals, programs, services and resources.
With continuing advances in technology and support systems it is increasingly easier for employers to hire and accommodate those with disabilities, giving them the opportunity to fully participate in society and be productive members of the workforce.
Sunshine Graham, a vocational rehabilitation counselor, reminded employers accommodations aren't always expensive. Accommodations can be as simple as extra time or changing a schedule. There are also multiple apps available these days to improve concentration and memory. Putting together a simple check list can also be helpful to some while others benefit from a different break schedule.
Melanie Black, with the Parkinson Foundation of Oklahoma, said in some cases the best way to help those with a disability is by taking cues from the person.
"Respect their privacy, don't draw attention to their symptoms and ask if they want help but don't push if they don't want the help," said Black.
The history of National Disability Employment Awareness Month traces back to 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year "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.