American society often equates disability with inability. For those with disabilities, pride in their identity can help to successfully navigate the workplace and increase productivity. A discussion on cultural identity and disability pride. A discussion with Andrew Imparato of Association of University Centers on Disabilities
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for part 1 of Disability Pride.
Interview recorded Sept 27, 2017.
Traynham: Do you encourage individuals to have this conversation with loved ones, with their employers and so forth sooner rather than later? I mean, you mentioned that you had this conversation when you were in law school.
Imparato: Yeah, as I was graduating.
Traynham: Is that too late, with the benefit of hindsight?
Imparato: Well, for me, my first serious episode of depression was during my last semester of law school, so I wouldn't -- If I had had the conversation when I was in college, we wouldn't have been talking about myself. So, that's the nature of disability. Some people grow up with a disability from birth, some people, it doesn't kick in until, you know, it could be in their 30s, 40s, or as they're, you know, going into their senior years.
Traynham: And that was the case for you in terms of when you went to law school, that was your first --
Imparato: Yeah, so, for me, I had to kind of adjust to this new status right as I was graduating law school and starting my legal career, and I went from being kind of an uppity law student that thought the world was my oyster to wondering if I could get through the day. I mean, it was a big adjustment for me, and, luckily, my wife and other -- you know, I had other supports in my life that helped me get through it. But it was very powerful for me earlier in my career to hear the idea that disability's a natural part of the human experience, and our experience with a disability should in no way limit what we can achieve as professionals.
Traynham: This is the cultural identity that you speak to. How do we create a larger platform for that type of conversation to occur?
Imparato: Well, there's a researcher at our university center at Vanderbilt in Nashville named Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt, and she's actually doing research right now on disability-identity development, and what she's finding is that a lot of the professionals who work with folks with disabilities don't pay attention to where they are on their own journey. So if you're comfortable in your own skin as a person with a disability, how a vocational rehabilitation counselor works with you is gonna be different than if you?re not comfortable in your own skin. One of the first things they're gonna need to do is help you get comfortable talking about your disability in the workplace, especially if you have an obvious disability, because it's not something that you?re gonna be able to not talk about. But it's not something that a lot of professionals are paying attention to -- "Where is this person on their own journey of getting comfortable in their own skin?"
Robert Traynham: Andy, as we celebrate the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act -- This was, as you know, a piece of legislation that was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s. Is the community as a whole, as we as a country and as a society, are we better off today than we were 27 years ago?
Imparato: I mean, you know, I try to take the long view. You know, people with disabilities have been around since the beginning of humanity, and if you look at the progress that we've made in my lifetime, globally, it's extraordinary. The world is dramatically more accessible today than it was 27 years ago. Because of the ADA, we now have a U.N. convention on the rights of people with disabilities, which was based on the ADA, and that's been ratified and signed across the world. So, the rest of the world is trying to learn from the U.S. experience and is embracing people with disabilities as part of human diversity, not as a negative thing. That's a huge change.
Traynham: Andy, where can folks that are watching this program find out more information about your organization?
Imparato: So, our website is aucd.org. Again, we're the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. We?re active on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. And, you know, I encourage folks to connect with their local center. We have a center in every state and territory, and if you go to our website at aucd.org, there's a map where you can find the center in your state.
Traynham: Andy Imparato, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.
Imparato: Thank you, Robert.
Traynham: And thank you for joining us, as well.And for more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation,visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Robert Traynham.