National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), held annually in October, celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities past and present and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices.
At Viasat, we celebrate our employees with disabilities every day through our culture and our Ability Alliance. The alliance provides support and resources to employees with both visible and invisible disabilities, while focusing on increased awareness and education.
In honor of NDEAM, we’ve asked some of Ability Alliance members to tell us what achievements they’ve had in their personal or professional lives, regardless of being an individual with a disability or disabilities.
Here are their answers:
Director, People Analytics
I have ADHD and Autism, both of which were not diagnosed until I was in my late 30’s. I also have PTSD from childhood trauma.
Growing up I was deemed “gifted and talented”, and my social difficulties were said merely to be expected because of my high IQ. Literally, this is what the guidance counselors would tell me and my parents. But somehow despite the trauma and the challenges I faced with my disabilities I managed to pretend to be “normal”.
By the time I finished undergrad, I was an accomplished middle-distance runner, having competed and placed 20th in the NCAA Division II cross-country championship. I then went on to become a fitness instructor teaching classes all over New England — all while pursuing degrees in theatre, musical theater and ultimately, HR. Later, I was bitten by the HR Technology bug because I got to leverage my high-school magnet program curriculum in a work setting. I went on to become a researcher, writer and speaker in the HR/HR Tech space and eventually completed a PhD in Human Capital Management.
All the while I struggled with relationships, both friendships and in the workplace. I was misunderstood and labeled a know-it-all. My constant interruptions were perceived as if I simply didn’t care what people had to say. And when I spoke, I would go on and on, missing the social queues from others that I needed to stop talking.
It wasn’t until I was diagnosed that I began to understand these things. And it wasn’t until I sought help that I could finally stop thinking of myself as a failure as a member of society and a human. Once I started talking about my disability with others and helping them to understand who I am, I started to notice not only a change in how people viewed me, but also in how I saw myself.
I now like to talk about the “superpowers” I have as a result of my dis(abilities) but recognize the limitations I may have and share those with others. I do the latter not as an excuse for my behavior, but to help those around me better understand my motivations and seek their help in doing better.
If you met me, you probably would never know that I had any of these challenges because I don’t necessarily look like what most people think an autistic person should look like. My hope is that events like Disability Awareness month will help more people see that disabilities come in all shapes and sizes.
Senior Demand Planner
Running long distances reminds me that I can persist toward whatever I choose, even during moments that aren’t fun or easy. I’ve completed 16 half-marathons.
Supply Chain Global Sourcing Manager
Six years ago, my first grandson was born, and the next year his brother was born. Both boys have been diagnosed with autism.
A few years ago, a companywide email about disability awareness month announced there was going to be a lunch time talk with a panel. The talk was specifically about people with autism working at Viasat and a few other local companies. Hungry and eager to learn all I could about autism in what is now my personal journey, I attended. The talk and panel members opened my mind and my heart to the challenges that having autism can bring to individuals and their families.
I also belong to the San Diego and Phoenix Autism Society groups.
Last year my oldest grandson went to a surf camp for children with autism. One of the requirements was to raise money to sponsor one other camp attendee. Through social media and Viasat’s matching program, we raised enough to sponsor three other people to attend surf camp that year.
I’m honored to be part of the Ability Alliance group at Viasat and hope to continue to help make this world a better place for everyone, especially people with a disability or disabilities. If you find yourself asking “What can I do to help?” join one of the groups like the Ability Alliance.