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By Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport
In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, Keyport held a presentation and Q&A session, Oct. 24, onboard Naval Base Kitsap-Keyport—as well as virtually via Microsoft Teams—focused on the importance of using inclusive language in relation to disabilities.
“Our words have tremendous power, both for good and for ill,” said NUWC Division, Keyport Acting Technical Director Darren Barnes during his opening remarks. “The way we address, speak about and write about people with disabilities can deeply impact their lives and experiences. It can build bridges or create barriers, promote respect or perpetuate stigma, and, most importantly, influence the opportunities individuals with disabilities have in the workforce.”
NDEAM is observed annually throughout the month of October. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the national theme of this year's NDEAM was "Advancing Access and Equity."
The presentation—delivered by Frank Kaminski, Havalah Noble and Bill Longworth of the NUWC Division, Keyport Individuals with Disabilities Special Emphasis Program—covered a wide range of topics through the lens of language etiquette. These included, among others, hidden and dynamic disabilities, reasonable accommodations, legal frameworks and service animals.
The presenters provided firsthand perspectives on these topics by drawing on their own experiences as individuals with disabilities.
“The idea here is to help bridge the gap between abstract concepts and real-life situations encountered by those who have faced both inclusionary and exclusionary treatment in connection with their disabilities,” noted Barnes during his initial address.
Noble shared their experience as an individual with dynamic disabilities, defined as those whose intensity and impact can vary over time.
“The symptoms that somebody [with dynamic disabilities] experiences can change from day to day, or even throughout the day,” said Noble. “For me, it can be from one hour to the next… [W]ith my connective tissue disorders, sometimes you’ll see me up here without mobility aids and I will look like I’m well; and other times you’ll see me utilizing a cane or a walker, and it’s more evident that I’ve got something going on.”
Longworth described how his mobility assistance dog, Ranger, helps him perform physical tasks. “[Ranger] helps me get around, helps pull me up the stairs, gets stuff off the ground—things of that nature,” said Longworth.
Kaminski recalled his experience seeking reasonable accommodations for the short-term memory lapses he experiences as a result of his autism.
“My autism spectrum disorder affects my executive functions, and one of the executive functions is short-term working memory, so I have to write things down to be able to remember them,” said Kaminski. “I’ve always had good working relationships with my supervisors, and [this is] one of the things I’ve told each of my supervisors when I’ve first started working with them.”
Among the presentation’s recurring themes was the wide range of conditions and experiences that can be considered disabilities.
“[D]isabilities can include physical impairments like paralysis, chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cognitive challenges like autism and learning disabilities, sensory issues like blindness and deafness, psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety, and even invisible disabilities like chronic pain or chemical sensitivities,” said Kaminski. “They can be present from birth or acquired due to accidents or aging, and they affect individuals differently. Recognizing this diversity is crucial for fostering an inclusive workplace.”
The presentation also highlighted the ongoing evolution of language conventions in relation to disabilities and the importance of using respectful, inclusive language. “Words have the power to influence perceptions and attitudes, so it’s essential to choose words that are considerate and accurate,” said Noble.
The presenters fielded questions from both the audience and event facilitators Edgar Alvarez—who serves as the command's affirmative employment program manager overseeing all its Special Emphasis Programs, including IWD—and Shelby Hallman, a NUWC Division, Keyport labor and employee relations specialist and fervent advocate for disability awareness.
Questions ranged from how to respond to microagressions to how to offer assistance to individuals with disabilities.
“Ask,” said Longworth in response to the latter. “Don’t assume; ask if they need help and go from there. That’s the single best thing you can do. That not only shows you respect them for what their abilities are, but it shows them you are a resource for them in the future.”
Employees of NUWC Division, Keyport who want to know more about the types of support and resources available to individuals with disabilities are encouraged to explore the command’s IWD Special Emphasis Program. For more information, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport
NUWC Keyport provides advanced technical capabilities for test and evaluation, in-service engineering, maintenance and industrial base support, fleet material readiness, and obsolescence management for undersea warfare to expand America’s undersea dominance.