with Andrew Imparato of Association of University Centers on Disabilities
Posted Oct 16, 2017
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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. This discussion continues in part 2 of Disability Pride.
Interview recorded Sept 27, 2017.
Traynham: According to Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, 70% of college students? disabilities are non-apparent, including chronic illnesses, mental health, and learning disabilities. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Robert Traynham. With me is Andrew Imparato, executive director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. Andy, welcome to the program.
Imparato: Thanks, Robert. Great to be here.
Traynham: Before we talk about the mission and scope of your organization, I understand, Andy, you have a personal story that you would like to share.
Imparato: Sure. Well, related to the lead-in, you know, I have bipolar disorder or manic depression. Like a lot of people with mental-health disabilities, my disability got diagnosed as I was finishing law school -- so, early career. And, you know, I was lucky to find the disability movement early in my career, where I was encouraged to be proud of my status as a person with a disability, to see it as a source of strength and identity for the work that I ended up doing as a disability-rights lawyer, and it's sad to me that so many young people even today are not really encouraged to be comfortable in their own skin as people with disabilities.
Traynham: Andy, thank you for sharing your story, by the way. You picked up on something that I want to draw down on, and that is -- As I understand it, there's a certain stigma when it comes to mental illness, where you keep it to yourself. Maybe you speak to that with your family members or loved ones and with your doctor, but talking about that in the workplace -- I'm of the belief, at least based on what I've learned, is that you should never talk about that. But what you?re saying is, we should talk about that in the workplace.
Imparato: Well, I think there's a growing movement in the disability field that it's good to have disability pride, you know, like gay pride. It's pride in your identity as a person with a disability, and that if you can own that identity and navigate it successfully in the workplace, it can add value, you know? It may give you insights to reaching the disability community as a market. It may give you insights on how to get more productivity from your colleagues cause you're thinking about ways to accommodate them. And your own employer can think about you as part of their diversity and embrace that, like they would embrace other forms of diversity.
Traynham: Good to know. I want to segue to the mission and scope of your organization. Specifically, what do you do, and what are you trying to accomplish?
Imparato: Sure. So, we're a national network of university centers for excellence in disabilities. We have at least one in every state and territory, and you can think of us like a $650-million research-and-development arm for the disability field where one of the things that we're developing is people. We do interdisciplinary training to help people work with children and adults with disabilities.
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: For me, my first serious episode of depression was during my last semester of law school, so I wouldn't -- if I 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...
Traynham: Click the link below to watch part two of my conversation with Andy,where we discuss resources designed to inform and empower people with disabilities apparent and non-apparent.