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Norfolk Naval Shipyard Disability Awareness Committee ERG Shines a Light on Invisible Disabilities

By Allison Conti, Norfolk Naval Shipyard Public Affairs Specialist | Dec. 18, 2019

NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —

Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) joined the country in celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) during October. NNSY’s Disability Awareness Committee Employee Readiness Group (ERG) hosted two events that focused on “invisible disabilities.” Disability Awareness Committee ERG Chairperson Daniel Freeh defined an "invisible disability" as something “that you may or may not see from the outside.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four adults in the United States is living with a disability. That equates to 61 million Americans. The vast majority of people with disabilities are those living with an invisible one. When speaking on the topic, Freeh used himself as an example. “I’ll tell you most people who see me on a day-to-day basis would not know I was disabled. I walk and I talk just like everyone else, but you should see me by 4 p.m. when I leave work. I’m not walking so nicely at that point.”

The first event was held Oct. 25 and featured guest speaker Dr. Debbie Pfeiffer, Director of Outreach Programs, for the Virginia School of the Deaf and the Blind. Pfeiffer discussed the history and mission of the school located in Staunton, VA.

One highlight of Pfeiffer’s presentation was her discussion of the Courtesy Rules of Blindness published by the National Foundation of the Blind. The rules, which can be found online at https://www.nfb.org/programs-services/meet-blind-month/courtesy-rules-blindness, provide tips for sighted people to reference when interacting with a person who is blind or vision impaired. Some examples included, “Understand – I may not recognize your voice. If I don’t know you well, please say, ‘Hi, it’s Sue.’” Another was, “Experience – I probably have years of experience using nonvisual techniques to live my life. Feel free to ask me how I do something, or how best you can assist me if help is needed.” 

Pfeiffer emphasized that the discussion is not about the disability, but rather, how to allow access to all.  She spoke about technology that helps to turn challenges into opportunities. Some examples were a portable scanner, used to transform printed text into electronic text through optical character recognition, and software that can read text aloud to a person who can’t see it.  Another example was relay interpreting services that provides access to telephone conversations between those using American Sign Language and those who do not. 

Freeh led the second event and had the audience play a trivia game in which he listed facts about three historical figures, and the audience had to identify the person based on the facts. Freeh said, “These three individuals did remarkable things for humanity. They also happen to be disabled.” The three individuals Freeh discussed were President Franklin D. Roosevelt, mathematician John Nash, and author Helen Keller.

Freeh wrapped up his presentation by speaking about how these individuals’ disabilities “had no bearing on how they changed the world.” This perseverance is a characteristic he sees mirrored in the workforce at NNSY. “Many people here have overcome their disabilities. They come to the shipyard every day, and they do a great job. They get the job done and their disability does not hold them back from striving towards excellence.”