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Home : Media : News
NEWS | April 16, 2024

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division Personnel Win Awards for Disability Awareness, Inclusion Efforts

By Thomas McMahon Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division

Two employees who advocate for those with disabilities at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) in California have earned national honors for promoting disability awareness and inclusion.

Steven Cosgrove and Wendy Dasgupta are the first NSWC PHD personnel to win Disability Matters Awards, which recognize organizations and individuals for supporting people with disabilities as employees in the workplace and consumers in the marketplace.

Cosgrove, a workforce development training specialist, received a 2024 Disability Matters Champion Award in the associate category. Dasgupta, a branch manager for metrics and analytics, received the same award in the management category.

Highland Beach, Florida-based firm Springboard Consulting LLC presented the annual awards at its Disability Matters North America Conference, which took place April 4-5 in Milwaukee.

NSWC PHD is one of two Naval Sea Systems Command Warfare Centers to win Disability Matters Awards this year, along with NSWC Philadelphia Division. The competition is open to private industry, academia and government organizations.

Warren Peacock, NSWC PHD’s deputy director of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and division manager of EEO/Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), said this was the first time the command has submitted nominations for the Disability Matters Awards, but it won’t be the last.

“It’s a significant accomplishment that two of our employees were recognized for their commitment and dedication to individuals with disabilities,” Peacock said. “The multitude of initiatives that Wendy and Steven have supported have made an enduring impact at our command.”

Destigmatizing disabilities
Cosgrove advocates for employees with disabilities through his position in workforce development and as a member of the command’s Individuals with Disabilities (IWD) Special Emphasis Program (SEP), according to his supervisor, Workforce Development Branch Manager Albert de la Rocha. That includes targeting accessibility in training programs.

“He’s always looking at the user, the learner, and trying to identify the best ways for someone to be successful in learning,” de la Rocha said.

Cosgrove coordinates training for the command’s data science, engineering, fleet support and logistics competencies. He has also been developing a training curriculum focused on disabilities, inclusion and accessibility to educate the NSWC PHD workforce, and he ensures that required training is accessible, according to de la Rocha.

In the IWD SEP, Cosgrove helped facilitate a focus group to destigmatize disabilities and create an action plan for command leaders. He has also assisted in organizing events, such as a bowling and board game gathering and National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) activities.

In 2022, Cosgrove shared his own experience with a disability — he has cerebral palsy and a herniated disc in his lower back — to promote the reasonable accommodations program in a series of videos that the NSWC PHD Public Affairs Office produced.

Reasonable accommodations are modifications to a job or work environment that enable an applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. For Cosgrove, that was a sit-stand desk to alleviate back pain.

“The command took my request seriously, and I had (the desk) within about an hour,” he said in an interview.

Cosgrove has also contributed to NSWC PHD’s recruiting outreach to the disability community. He has promoted the command’s IWD recruitment brochure and has participated in recruiting events at local colleges — including his alma mater and former employer, California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo.

“We take the Individuals with Disabilities recruitment info with us and talk about our experiences,” Cosgrove said. “It’s a fun way to interact with students and get them excited about NSWC PHD.”

Cosgrove’s efforts help make the command a workplace of choice for a diverse population, according to de la Rocha.

“For us to be successful, we have to have an inclusive mindset to reach our goals,” he said. “This award shows the dedication we have at PHD, and that we have people like Steve who are champions and leaving a mark.”

Cosgrove said he was surprised to be selected for the Disability Matters award, and honored to be recognized along with Dasgupta, with whom he works on data science competency training and IWD initiatives.

“She puts in a lot of effort and really steps up to make sure we get what we need done,” he said.

Leading efforts
Many of Cosgrove’s contributions to the IWD SEP have come during the tenure of Dasgupta, who stepped into the group’s lead role in 2020.

Since then, Dasgupta has spearheaded numerous initiatives to support individuals with disabilities, according to her supervisor, Corporate Business Office Division Manager Janie Kumar.

“She guided the IWD SEP’s primary focus on efforts to engage the workforce by destigmatizing the term ‘disability,’ highlighting IWD as a key recruiting focus, and proactively examining command practices that could present potential barriers affecting IWD recruiting and retention,” Kumar said.

One of the destigmatizing efforts is a monthly coffee hour that Dasgupta launched to foster conversations and shared experiences among IWD SEP members and others across the command. The sessions, held at a local coffeehouse, are open to all employees and advertised to all of the SEPs and Employee Resource Groups.

Dasgupta has also encouraged IWD SEP members to share their stories in NDEAM events and Disability Spotlights, such as the video that Cosgrove appeared in.

“These stories reinforced how one’s disability impacts life, as well as the significant contributions of our IWD workforce toward protecting our nation,” Kumar said.

At an NDEAM event in 2022, Dasgupta shared her own experience with a temporary disability after she was injured in a car crash earlier in life. The story tied in with her broader message about how common disabilities are — again aiming to destigmatize them, she said.

“The more I’ve been involved in this group (the SEP), the more I’ve realized how the term disability has a bigger stigma than I thought when I started participating,” she said in an interview. “That increased my drive to help move things along for the group.”

Dasgupta has also led efforts to engage with the external community, including the local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) office. Last year, she organized a team that participated in an annual NAMI fundraising walk at the Ventura County Government Center.

“Even when her own physical illness prevented her from walking at the event, she raised funds for it anyway,” Kumar said.

Dasgupta said she was “shocked” to be selected for the Disability Matters award. She pointed to others who have pitched in on the SEP’s initiatives, including her new co-lead, data analyst Rachel Newbold; the EEO/D&I team; and Cosgrove, among others.

“I didn’t do anything alone, so it feels odd to accept the award,” she said. “Everybody in the group has helped out with the progress we’ve been able to make.”

Dasgupta also said the award wins reflect NSWC PHD’s culture of supporting SEPs and encouraging diversity and cultural acceptance.

“It’s a great place to work, open to different perspectives and with a supportive leadership,” she said.