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NEWS | Nov. 17, 2023

NSWCPD Disability Employment Awareness Month Keynote Speaker Provides Advice on Inclusivity and Dispels Misconceptions about the Deaf Community

By Joseph Fontanazza

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) marked National Disability Employment Month with a special presentation aimed at educating and enlightening the workforce on Oct. 19, 2023.

Coordinated by the command’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Diversity, and Inclusion, the hybrid event featured Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region Three Regional Disability Integration Specialist Philip “PJ” Mattiacci, whose position with FEMA focuses on eliminating barriers to access for people with disabilities.

“The Department of the Navy (DON) and NSWCPD strive to make an accessible, equitable, and inclusive workplace for all people including those with disabilities,” NSWCPD Commanding Officer Capt. Joseph Darcy said in his opening remarks.

“This year we mark 50 years since the passing of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a landmark federal law that laid the foundation for civil rights for individuals with disabilities. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary, the Office of Disability Employment Policy has designated this year’s theme to be ‘Advancing Access and Equity – Then, Now and Next,’” Darcy added before formally introducing the keynote speaker.

Mattiacci, who is Deaf, used American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with the hybrid audience.

“My job is not really a desk job. During disasters, I’m deployed to a specific state where those disasters occur,” Mattiacci signed.

“My focus is to help persons with disabilities before, during, and after disasters. That is the mission of [FEMA’s] Office of Disability Integration and Coordination,” he continued.

The Philadelphia native spent some time giving tips for more inclusive and respectful interactions with persons with disabilities as well.

“Another important point we want to emphasize is to ask before engaging with persons with disabilities and offering any type of help. You may talk with others and say ‘Hey, this person has a disability. How can I help them?’ You should be asking the person with the disability themselves because they are the expert on what needs they have and they will let you know,” he said.

Mattiacci also set out to dispel common harmful misconceptions about the Deaf community.

“Assuming is dangerous. Don’t assume every Deaf person knows sign language or can read lips. I’m not very skilled at reading lips; it is exhausting to do so,” Mattiacci said.

“For example, the words ‘chew,’ ‘shoe,’ and ‘juice’ on the lips all look the same. Thirty percent of sound is based on the tongue and the movement of the tongue and that is behind where I have a clear view of. This causes a lot of miscommunications,” he added.

NSWCPD Disability Program Manager and EEO Specialist Noah Zorzi praised Mattiacci’s commitment to eliminating barriers to access for people with disabilities through his role as FEMA.

“People with disabilities have long strengthened our economy and expanded our Nation’s possibilities. During National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we recognize the contributions of disabled Americans and recommit to delivering America’s full promise of dignity, respect, and opportunity for every American to reach their full potential,” Zorzi said to close out the event.

NSWCPD employs approximately 2,800 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel. The NSWCPD team does the research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for the non-nuclear machinery, ship machinery systems, and related equipment and material for Navy surface ships and submarines. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.