ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Three Anniston Army Depot employees opened their past to coworkers Oct. 25 to teach them about diversity and inspire them to help others.

"Most people have disabilities of one kind or another," said Amanda Walker as she welcomed the crowd to the depot's Disability Awareness Month luncheon. "The differences lie in the degree and whether or not the disabilities are hidden."

Walker, who is hearing impaired, works in the Strategic Communications Office. She spoke to the audience through a sign language interpreter.

The interpreter also served as the voice for one of the three keynote speakers, Barbara Chess.

Chess, an employee of the Anniston Munitions Center, shared the story of her life as a hearing impaired individual.

She and some of her siblings were born deaf. Through the support of her family and the faculty and students of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, she learned to use her disability as a teaching tool for others.

Her parents learned sign language to communicate with the children and she teaches sign language to her coworkers.

Chess has also learned to use her gifts to help others.

"I enjoy helping the blind go to church and assisting them at Sunday service," she said.

Like Chess, Michael Romero is thankful for those who taught him early on that nothing was impossible.

"My mother and father always taught me that anything I put my mind to, I could do," said Romero, a Directorate of Material Management employee at the depot.

Romero, who is wheelchair bound due to palsy, learned early to develop his mind and overcome his physical limitations.

He began his depot career in 2005 in the eye clinic. He told the luncheon crowd that, as he approached his first day of work, he didn't know what to expect or what he would be doing.

Romero has since transitioned into a permanent job in the installation's shoe store.

"I'm very thankful for the depot and everyone, from the top down, who is responsible for the daily operations of this depot.," said Romero, adding that the installation's leadership has always assisted him with the things he needs to be able to perform his duties.

"The depot has proven to me what I've always said - that people with a disability only want an opportunity to be productive members of society," he said.

Mark Cleghorn, the depot's multimedia/visual information manager, capped off the event with "a story about two women who turned adversities into advantages."

Though the story he told was his own tale of how, at three years of age he was diagnosed as having no hearing in one ear and little in the other, Cleghorn told it through the actions of his mother and first grade teacher.

Referring to the women as trail blazers throughout his speech, Cleghorn told how the women ensured he was able to stay with his family and attend the local public school, rather than going away to a school for the deaf.

"We cannot become what we need to be by remaining where we are," said Cleghorn. "If the teacher had not shown up that day, I would have remained where I was - unable to move forward in the public school system. The teacher led the charge by opening the door for other children like me. She blazed trails by lighting a fire within me."

Cleghorn challenged those attending the ceremony to be trail blazers themselves - to light fires of inspiration and hope in those around them and to make inclusiveness a part of their daily life.

As he lit a flame, literally, in a fire proof box he stationed at the podium, he asked the crowd if they would prefer to make things better for those around them or if they would prefer to leave everything as it is.

"If you want to remain where you are, then stay where you are," said Cleghorn. "If you want to blaze trails, the first step begins by lighting the flame from within. Fan the flame. Be the one to blaze trails toward inclusiveness."