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How Our Disability Employee Resource Group Is Creating Allies


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

By Christine Smith, Public Affairs Staff

The St. Louis Fed is committed to building a diverse and inclusive workplace where people’s differences can be recognized as strengths.

Since launching in 2019, our Disability Employee Resource Group is helping co-workers understand what it’s like to live with a disability, visible or not. Its official goals include promoting greater awareness and understanding of people with disabilities through advocacy and allyship.

If you spend just five minutes with the group’s leaders—Beth Hughes, Scott Lamar and Naomi Pusch—it’s clear these goals are more than words.

The three St. Louis Fed employees note they are not specialists: “We are not the experts, but we’re trying hard to learn as we go,” Lamar says. But they have a knack for convening internal and external experts and igniting a passion in others.

Awareness

Beth Hughes

For Hughes, greater awareness starts with appreciating the prevalence of disabilities in the U.S.

“The more you have conversations with other people, the more you realize how little awareness there is of what it means to live with a disability. The scope of people in the United States who are living with a disability is vast,” said Hughes, a senior administrative assistant in Supervision.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey defines a disability as:

The product of interactions among individuals’ bodies; their physical, emotional, and mental health; and the physical and social environment in which they live, work, or play. Disability exists where this interaction results in limitations of activities and restrictions to full participation at school, at work, at home, or in the community. American Community Survey and Puerto Rico Community Survey 2018 Subject Definitions (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau.

Census 2018 ACS five-year estimates show 12.6% of the U.S. civilian population, or some 40 million Americans, live with a disability. Meanwhile, information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows 61 million U.S. adults live with a disability. The CDC describes disability using the World Health Organization’s dimensions of impairment, activity limitation or participation restrictions. The CDC says a disability is “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).” More information, including state-level data, is available at the CDC’s Disability and Health Data System.

Both census and CDC data show disabilities are more common among older adults and non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Taken together, however, “Persons with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States,” noted a representative from St. Louis-based Paraquad, who spoke at the employee resource group’s kickoff. “And it is the only minority group any individual can become a part of at any time in their life.”

Understanding

While ambulatory disabilities are the most prevalent type (affecting 7% of Americans, per census data), Hughes, Pusch and Lamar talked at length in interviews about disabilities not immediately apparent.

An invisible disability can be physical. Or, as the CDC and Invisible Disabilities Association The Invisible Disabilities Association offers this definition: “an invisible disability is a physical, mental or neurological condition that is not visible from the outside, yet can limit or challenge a person’s movements, senses, or activities.” state, it can be a mental or neurological condition that may limit or challenge a person’s movements, senses or activities.

Scott Lamar

“PTSD can be an invisible disability. Fibromyalgia, chronic migraines can be, as well. And because they are not visible, they may not be acknowledged,” Lamar said.

 “So we feel it's important to let people know about the reality, and to raise awareness of potential marginalization and underrepresentation that may come from all types of disabilities.”

For Pusch, a senior instructional designer at the Bank’s Center for Learning Innovation, a deeper understanding of accessibility considerations follows awareness.

Naomi Pusch

"I feel like that for me, that's the understanding piece that I want to bring forward. It’s about having conversations where we're meeting people where they’re at.”

Allyship and Advocacy

Out of awareness and understanding arise the final parts of the group’s focus: allyship and advocacy. The St. Louis Fed has a robust ally program, which teaches concrete methods for supporting co-workers and modeling inclusive behavior.

That really resonated with Lamar.

“Wherever you work, part of being an ally is learning how to be present and vocal and stand up respectfully. How can you help remove barriers?” he said. “We’re just really getting started, but if you look at the group of people at our meetings, it’s super diverse—we have people from all over the Bank. I think we’re building something special here.”

Hughes noted how the group can facilitate connections, including with experts at Paraquad. “I joke that since this effort started, officially kicked off, the floodgates of subject matter have just flung wide open,” she said.

So far, the group has offered education on subjects like designing for accessibility and communicating with dignity. Their launch event also helped lay employees learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Concluded Pusch, “I have been so overwhelmed by how excited people are and how much they want to get involved. I think that’s a testament to how much of an impact it is in their lives, that they want to be involved in this.”

Notes and References

1 American Community Survey and Puerto Rico Community Survey 2018 Subject Definitions (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau.

2 The CDC says a disability is “any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).” More information, including state-level data, is available at the CDC’s Disability and Health Data System.

3 The Invisible Disabilities Association offers this definition: “an invisible disability is a physical, mental or neurological condition that is not visible from the outside, yet can limit or challenge a person’s movements, senses, or activities.”

Additional Resources

To learn more about opportunities at the St. Louis Fed, visit our Careers site and connect with us on LinkedIn.

To discover more about our culture, see:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christine Smith 

Christine Smith is a senior specialist at the St. Louis Fed.

She works in Public Affairs.

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