Collettey’s Cookies Founder Helps Others with Disabilities

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Collette Divitto holding a bag of her cookies

By Kellie Speed

After applying for numerous jobs and receiving countless rejections, Collette Divitto did what not too many young ladies her age might do after college – she decided to start her own business.

Born with Down Syndrome, Divitto has now made it her personal mission to beat all odds and help others with disabilities.

The Ridgefield, Connecticut, native and disability activist graduated from Clemson University’s three-year LIFE program in just two years. Shortly after that, she moved to Boston in search of employment. “I went on about nine interviews and would have a cup of coffee with the CEO and talked about their company, but days later I would always get an email saying it was great to meet you in person, but that I was not a good fit,” she told us in a Zoom interview.

No stranger to facing rejection over the years, the headstrong Divitto knew she would have to reinvent herself. With her mother (and biggest cheerleader), Rosemary, by her side, they developed a marketing plan to do what Collette has always loved doing – baking cookies.Collette holding a tray of cookies

“Collette had a teacher back in high school, who said that she could make baking a profession because she is the best student in the class and helps everyone else in the class,” Rosemary said. “I would always tell Collette I would help her as best as I could to have the life she wanted, but it was Collette who has to do all of the work. She had a mantra that she used to say to herself all the time growing up – ‘I deserve the best for me’ – and that has helped build her confidence, be clear about what she wants, and set herself up to work hard to achieve it.”

After learning the basics of baking in high school, Collette began creating new recipes to have her family taste test. The standout was one filled with chocolate chips, rolled in cinnamon sugar and baked to a golden perfection. Originally dubbed “The Amazing Cookie,” it’s now one of her best sellers.

Collette posing with a plate of cookies and a glass of milkToday, she has a thriving online cookie business known as Collettey’s Cookies (Click here to visit her website) that serves up everything from her personal favorite (and the now famous) crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, chocolate chip cinnamon cookies to the popular chewy peanut butter cookies.

With 13 employees and three interns in her Boston kitchen, the Collettey’s team bakes twice a week and ships to customers four to five days a week. “In four hours, they make and bake between 2,000 to 3,000 cookies,” Collette said. “Some of these cookies have to go right into storage containers to avoid getting too hard too fast if not stored immediately, so there are extra precautions they have to take with each cookie along with all of the sanitization requirements.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Collette decided to create a specialty gift package for essential workers and first responders. The response she received was so overwhelming that she wanted to give back as well. She decided that for all cookies ordered, she would personally match the number of cookies in each order. Right now, she is wrapping up filming for a TV show that will feature select entrepreneurs like Collette, who have faced major challenges in life but were successful in overcoming them.

Collette, who loves chocolate, is in the process of perfecting yet another cookie – this one made with espresso and dark chocolate. She first tested the recipe with milk chocolate and cocoa powder, but determined “it wasn’t rich enough.”Collette holding a cookie in front of a large tray of cookies

Today, this big-hearted young lady is setting out to prove to the world (one cookie at a time) that with a positive attitude and determination, you can do anything. “I would say to people with disabilities do not focus on your disabilities,” she said. “You need to focus on your abilities. Do not give up on your dreams. Do not let people bring you down, and my favorite saying is, ‘No matter who you are, you can make a difference in this world.’”

Luckily for Collette, she has already done just that.

Disabled Raccoon Walking on His Own Thanks to His Dog Best Friend and Student-Made Wheelchair

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raccoon crawling on all fours using a custom made wheelchair

By Michelle Boudin, People

Odd couple Benton the Great Pyrenees and Boone the disabled raccoon are best friends helping each other make it through life with a positive attitude.

The duo lives at Nolin River Wildlife Sanctuary in Glendale, Kentucky — a sanctuary dedicated to nursing wild animals back to full health.

“Boone was diagnosed with a rare disorder, cerebral hypoplasia, that makes it very difficult for him to get around,” Mary Key, Nolin River’s founder, tells PEOPLE. “He came to us as a baby, and when it was time for him to start walking, I noticed there was a problem.”

Hoping to help Boone with his walking skills, Key looked up wheelchairs for animals on the internet but found that the nonprofit couldn’t afford the options available. So she reached out to a friend at nearby Central Hardin High to see if the school’s engineering students could help. The engineering teacher, Russ Pike, replied it was the perfect real-world project for his students.

“From the first time they brought Boone to class for the kids to meet him, they were fully on board. It’s pretty neat. Most of the time, you’re trying to get kids involved and engaged. Well, we had to reign them in because they were so excited,” Key says of the enthusiasm for the project.

Over the past few months, Boone regularly visited the high school so the engineering students could measure the raccoon for fittings and make adjustments to their prototypes. After a bit of tinkering, the students came up with a wheelchair — their third prototype — that worked for Boone.

“It’s amazing! The look on Boone’s face when we first put him in it … I was crying. He gets really engaged and gets a very purposeful look, and when he first moved in the chair, you could see him looking like this is different, and this is good,” Key says of Boone’s reaction to the custom creation. “He is absolutely adorable and unbelievably sweet, and now he can get around on his own.”

Click here to read the full article on People.

How STEM Can Be More Inclusive of Scientists with Disabilities

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man in wheel chair working on computer in a science lab

By Amanda Heidt, The Scientist

According to a 2019 National Science Foundation report, only 10 percent of employed scientists and engineers self-identify as having at least one disability, despite the fact that almost 20 percent of all undergraduates self-report the same, with disabled undergraduates enrolling in STEM programs at roughly the same rate as those without. These statistics are likely an underestimate of the true number of scientists living with disabilities, as a culture of stigmatization and ableism—discrimination that favors people with typical physical and mental abilities—in academia makes the choice over whether to disclose a disability a difficult one, according to a commentary published May 18 in Trends in Neuroscience.

Justin Yerbury, a molecular biologist at the University of Wollongong in Australia who coauthored the report with his wife, Wollongong psychology researcher Rachael Yerbury, studies motor neuron diseases, including a rare form that he himself was diagnosed with in 2016. Yerbury has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which causes nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to break down, leading to a loss of muscle control. In the piece, the Yerburys write that disabled scientists “may feel misunderstood, undervalued, defined by their disability, or worse—dismissed as not being able to contribute or compete in academia,” leading them to keep their differences a secret, or in some cases, to avoid STEM entirely.

Justin Yerbury answered questions by email about what prompted him to write the piece and how academia can be more inclusive of scientists with disabilities.

The Scientist: Can you tell me a bit about the impetus for writing the piece?
Justin Yerbury: I had just been through the process of assisting the National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia’s primary medical research funding body) with an update to their Relative to Opportunity policy to be more inclusive of people with a permanent disability and I wondered why this lack of disability access hadn’t been pointed out before. While this rattled around in my brain for a while I saw something on Twitter that made me wonder if people with a disability were not actually revealing their disability in grant applications, job applications, and promotion applications. I posed the question to the disabled in the academic community on Twitter and the responses inspired me to explore this further.

Click here to read the full article on The Scientist.

Why Disability Issues Should Be A Higher Priority, Even Now

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Disability, Graphic of a woman in a wheelchair reading

By Forbes

Disability issues in particular risk being sidelined even more than they usually are. Despite some notable recent success in bringing disability policy to the attention of politicians, disability is still widely regarded as a niche concern.

The phrase “Everything that’s going on” has rarely been so potent. Presidential Election results have been openly challenged in Congress. The Capitol building itself has been physically attacked by a wild but disturbingly directed mob. The Covid-19 pandemic seems to be escalating everywhere.

So it may be tempting for elected officials and political strategists to set seemingly specialized concerns aside in 2021 and focus just on a few of the perceived “fundamentals” that are understood to affect “everyone,” rather than narrower “special interests.” Conventional wisdom might suggest that with American democracy literally teetering on the brink, matters like Social Security rules, disability rights laws, and even health care eligibility should be put not just on the back burner, but in the deep freeze for the foreseeable future.

This would be a mistake – morally, practically, and politically. Disability issues are far more important and relevant than most people realize. They also offer ground for some tentative returns to a semblance of political bipartisanship, and restoration of faith in society’s ability to do things better. Here are five reasons why disability issues shouldn’t be set aside right now.

The disability community is a large constituency, not a tiny special interest.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 61 million adults in the U.S. have some kind of disability – that’s 26% of the adult population, or 1 in 4 adults. 13.7% of adults have a mobility disability. 10.8% have cognitive or intellectual disabilities. 5.9% of adults have hearing impairments. And 4.6% have vision impairments. These are all minorities in the numerical sense, compared with the whole U.S. population. But they are all substantial minorities.

We should also count families and friends of disabled people too, as part of a more broadly-defined disability community or constituency. It’s a common mistake to assume that non-disabled spouses, siblings, adult children, and work and school buddies always have the same views and priorities as actual disabled people. But they are at least potential and often genuine allies on disability issues.

Read the full article at Forbes.

Number of Characters with Disabilities on TV Reaches 10-Year Record High

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Perfect Harmony

Scripted broadcast programming added nine more series regular characters with disabilities for the 2019-2020 season in comparison to last year, a new report by GLAAD found. This means that the percentage of characters with disabilities has risen a full percentage point to 3.1 percent. While this is a record high, the report cautions the data “still falls far short of reflecting reality,” as more than twenty percent of people in the U.S. have a disability.

Of the 879 series regulars on broadcast programming, GLAAD found that 3.1 percent (27 characters) have disabilities, in comparison to 2.1 percent (18 characters) last year. There are nine characters across all three platforms tracked (broadcast, cable, streaming) with HIV and AIDS, an increase from the seven characters counted last year and a substantial increase from the two counted two years ago.

GLAAD’s 2019-2020 Where We Are on TV Report includes the only analysis of primetime scripted series regulars on broadcast networks of characters with disabilities. Largely known for tracking the number of LGBTQ+ characters on broadcast and cable networks, as well as streaming services, the Where We Are on TV Report also tracks racial, gender and disability inclusion on television.

The GLAAD report is based on self-reporting by the networks and content providers. GLAAD looked at 879 characters expected to appear on scripted prime time shows broadcast on ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX and NBC. Counts are based on original scripted series premiering or which are expected to premiere a new season in primetime between June 1, 2019 and May 31, 2020 for which casting has been announced and confirmed by networks.

The report finds that NBC leads the pack with 13 series regular characters having a disability, which is more than double than last year. “It is heartening to see NBC making strides in the disabilities represented on their programming – it is time for other networks to follow suit,” the report states. However, many of these characters are played by actors without the disabilities the character has.

One NBC show bucking that trend with guest stars is New Amsterdam, which has cast actors such as Lauren Ridloff, who is deaf, Marilee Talkington, who is legally blind, and Ghaliyah “Gigi” Cunningham, who has Down syndrome. However, since this study only includes series regulars, guest stars are not included in the count.

ABC has five series regular characters with disabilities while CBS, FOX and The CW each include three. Of note are ABC’s Stumptown, CBS’ NCIS: New Orleans and FOX’s 9-1-1, all of which include a series regular where the actor has the disability being portrayed by the character – Cole Sibus, who has Down syndrome; Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, who uses a wheelchair; and Gavin McHugh, who has cerebral palsy.

“Inclusion of characters – and actors – with disabilities – must be an intentional effort,” said Lauren Appelbaum, who leads RespectAbility’s Hollywood Inclusion efforts as the organization’s Vice President of Communications and author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit. “What we see on screen influences how we act in real life. The entertainment industry has an opportunity to help remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities. Seeing these characters on primetime TV, especially when they are portrayed as multi-dimensional beings and their disability is not the sole focus in the story, goes a long way in educating viewers.”

Gail Williamson is a talent agent for Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin and Associates (KMR), leading their Diversity Department, seeking out the right roles for talented actors with disabilities. Her clients include Jamie Brewer, known for American Horror Story, and Lauren Ridloff, who will play Marvel’s first Deaf superhero in The Eternals, as well as Cole Sibus and Gavin McHugh mentioned above.

“In the past six years, our Diversity Department at Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates, representing talent with disabilities, has seen the talents’ collective earnings grow from $50,000 in 2013 to over $3,000,000 in 2019,” Williamson said. “We hope that number will continue to climb as productions realize the value of the authenticity and diversity talent with disabilities bring to a project.”

Increased Representation of Learning Disabilities

Another positive outcome discovered in this year’s report is the increased representation of learning disabilities. In NBC’s Perfect Harmony, a young boy is diagnosed with dyslexia after acting out in school. His mother, who is going through a divorce, blames herself for his behavior until she is told of the diagnosis. He then learns new tools and ways of reading and learning the information.

Continue on to Respectability.org to read the complete article.

Inclusion for Disabilities. Inclusion for All

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This coming Black History Month, we want to recognize some of the individuals who have been making momentous strides to fight for the inclusion of individuals with disabilities and differences.

Here are some of the changemakers:

Aaron Philip Rose

(Pictured top right) At just 21 years old, model and author, Aaron Rose Philip is the first Black, transgender and physically disabled model to ever be represented by a major modeling agency. She has not only worked with some of the biggest fashion brands in the world, working with Marc Jacobs, Moschino and Vogue on a regular basis, but she also authors several articles in notable publications to advocate for inclusion in her industry. Philip, who has cerebral palsy and identifies as a transgender woman, has additionally worked with the likes of Miley Cyrus, Samantha Bee, Naomi Campbell and Beyoncé to provide representation for an even larger audience. This year, she made history by becoming the first model to use a wheelchair to walk the runway at New York Fashion Week.

“People can no longer say it’s just a small moment in time,” Philip told Vogue of her modeling work, “It’s done and look at how normal it looks now that it has happened. Look at how good and popular and cool it is. My vision isn’t complicated; I’m just a 20-something-year-old, and I’m a model who’s ready to work.”

Photo Credit: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images
Sources: Vogue, Wikipedia

Lachi

(Pictured bottom left) Gaining millions of streams across platforms and in the media, Lachi’s music can be heard in numerous television, film, radio and other media spots of various sorts. But Lachi is more than just a talented musician, she is an advocate for inclusion in the music industry, using her own experiences with vision loss to break barriers. In 2017, Lachi began using her platform to speak and perform regularly at Disability Pride events and festivals — working to promote disability representation and inclusion in media and advocating for disability visibility on national diversity and inclusion panels. In 2021, she took her advocacy a step further by founding the Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD) coalition, a group of creators and professionals with disabilities working to make musical events more inclusive and accessible to people of disabilities. They have since worked with numerous organizations and events to not only promote disability inclusion, but to actively make events more accessible.

Their most well-known partnership was with the 64th Grammy Awards, which ensured that the show has a visible ramp to the stage, ASL interpretation on the red carpet and live caption and audio description for viewers at home. “I’m walking full force into advocacy for the disabled,” Lachi said in an interview with Respectability, “with music and entertainment as my vehicle.”

Photo Credit: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images The Meteor
Sources: Respectability, Wikipedia

Haben Girma

(Pictured bottom right) Haben Girma has been advocating for herself since she attended elementary school in Oakland, California. After advocating for her right to choose her own meals at her undergraduate university, after being denied the privilege for being a deafblind person, Girma decided that she wanted to become an advocate for people with disabilities. In 2013, Girma graduated from Harvard Law School, becoming the first deafblind person to ever do so. She used her knowledge and experiences to become a civil rights advocate for disability rights and a public speaker who travels the country changing people’s perceptions of the disability community in the media. Besides speaking on behalf of the importance of representation, Girma is a passionate advocate for educational equality for people with disabilities.

Her work to foster equity and inclusion has earned her partnerships with several organizations, such as the National Federation of the Blind, and many prestigious honors from Forbes 30 under 30 and the Obama Administration.

Photo Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic
Sources: Wikipedia, Respectability

Montel Williams

(Pictured bottom middle) You may know Montel Williams from one of his numerous television or film appearances, but when he isn’t on camera, Williams is dedicated to giving back to his various communities, one of which is for multiple sclerosis (MS). In 1999, Williams was diagnosed with MS, within that same year he founded the Montel Williams MS Foundation, a nonprofit organization that finances organizations and institutions working to research, raise awareness and educate the public about multiple sclerosis. Since his diagnoses, Williams decided to turn his focus and outreach to health and wellness related issues. He began writing a series of books where he openly spoke on his experiences, used his interview opportunities to bring awareness to MS and eventually co-created the Partnership For Prescription Assistance, a program connecting uninsured and underinsured people with programs that provide lower-cost medicines.

Today, Williams dedicates much of his work towards spreading awareness and providing assistance, finding new opportunities to create conversations and form further partnerships into MS research.

Photo Credit: Lars Niki/Getty Images for Athena Film Festival
Sources: Wikipedia, Montel Williams MS Foundation, MM+M

Clarence Page

(Pictured top left) Page is a highly accomplished journalist, Pulitzer-winning syndicated columnist for the Tribune network. His work has been showcased in some of the biggest news outlets in the country such as the Chicago Tribune, NBC, ABC and BET’s Lead Story. He is also an African American who identifies as having Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), which can affect basic functioning due to hyperactivity and a pattern of inattention. As one of the 28 percent of African and Black Americans with disabilities to be employed in the United States, Page uses his platform to not only normalize having ADHD in the workplace, but to break down misconceptions around the condition. In fact, Page thinks that having ADHD helped him become a successful journalist. “I have a tireless curiosity about people in general, and I love to find interesting stories,” he stated in an interview with Respectability. “I’m no expert, but those characteristics seem to go productively well with the symptoms of ADHD.” Page has also spoken openly about the intersectionality of being Black and having ADHD in his book, Positively ADD, where he discusses about ADHD isn’t “wrong” or “bad,” but a different way of the brain working.

“Think of your diagnosis not as a ceiling on your abilities but as a floor beneath your opportunities,” Page says to others with ADHD, “Never use your condition as an excuse to avoid trying new tasks and pursuing new goals. Face reality: You always will face different challenges from most other people. But you also have more opportunities than any previous generation.”

Photo Credit:Kris Connor/Getty Images
Source: Respectability.org

Climate activists with disabilities fight for inclusion

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Climate activists with disabilities decry a lack of representation and burnout.

, ABC News

Despite 15% of the world’s population living with some form of a disability, research into the effects of climate change on the disabled community is still emerging.

Natural disasters resulting from climate change, like heatwaves and wildfires, disproportionately affect people with disabilities, according to advocates and activists. The harmful effects of climate change faced by disabled people are diverse and include — but aren’t limited to — reduced mobility, inability to regulate body temperature and respiratory problems.

Moreover, those with disabilities face further barriers in becoming advocates for environmental action and voicing their concerns, several experts who spoke with ABC News said.

While advocates claim the digital age has given climate change activists with disabilities more of a voice, they say the pandemic, which has forced society to live life even more online, has created more opportunities for those with disabilities; not just with work-from-home, but also to participate in activism.

Now, climate change activists with disabilities are increasingly demanding their place at the forefront of the climate change fight.

Yet, there remains an overall lack of visibility and literacy about the experiences of individuals with disabilities, Gregor Wolbring, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine and an ability and disability studies scholar, told ABC News.

“You have to find a way that people are exposed more to disabled people in general,” Wolbring said.

In a recently published study looking at more than 5,500 abstracts of the academic climate change and environmental action literature, Wolbring and his colleague Chiara Salvatore found that none of these studies focused on youth with disabilities as environmental activists, and none dealt with the impact of environmental activism on youth with disabilities.

The 14 studies they identified that did address disability and environmental action did so in the capacity of impairments due to environmental issues such as toxins.

Recently, there were also claims that COP26, considered the largest and most significant climate change conference, was inaccessible to many with disabilities, even though COP President Alok Sharma in May 2021, promised the event would be the most inclusive COP ever.

Reports from the first week highlighted the inaccessibility of the conference venue as Israeli energy minister Karine Elharrar-Hartstein, a wheelchair user, was unable to enter.

The minister was eventually able to enter the venue after her concerns reached Israel and UK Prime Ministers Naftali Bennett and Boris Johnson, who issued her a public apology.

COP26 organizers also addressed the incident in a tweet and said, “#COP26 must be inclusive and accessible to all and the venue is designed to facilitate that.”

“I think people are definitely horrified at the lack of accessibility, but because it was solved for the Israeli minister, they don’t think it’s a problem anymore,” 17-year-old climate activist Scarlett Westbrook, who uses crutches, told ABC News.

From reports of having to walk over 10 minutes to enter the venue to the misuse of accessible elevators by camera crews, Westbrook said every part of the conference was “as inaccessible as it possibly could be.”

Click here to read the full article on ABC News.

Should Students Be Allowed to Miss School for Mental Health Reasons?

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Person sad in their bedroom

Several states, including Arizona, Oregon and Virginia, have recently passed bills that allow students to miss school to take care of their mental health, efforts that were often supported or led by students.

Do you think all students should have the option to take a day off from school to rest, recalibrate and take a break from their regular routine? Does your state or school allow students to take mental health days when necessary?

In “Teens Are Advocating for Mental Health Days Off School,” Christina Caron writes:

By the time Ben Ballman reached his junior year in high school he was busier — and more anxious — than he had ever been.

“I had moments where it felt like the whole world was coming down on me,” he said. “It was definitely a really difficult time.”

Before the pandemic shut everything down, his day started at 6:30 a.m., when he woke up to get ready for school. Next came several Advanced Placement courses; then either soccer practice or his job at a plant nursery; studying for the SAT; and various extracurricular activities. He often didn’t start his homework until 11 p.m., and finally went to bed three hours later. Every day it was the same grueling schedule.

“It’s not even that I was going above and beyond, it was, ‘This is the bare minimum,’” said Ben, now 18 and a recent graduate of Winston Churchill High School in Montgomery County, Md. “It’s like a pressure cooker that’s locked down. There’s nowhere to escape. Eventually you just kind of burst at some point, or, hopefully, you can get through it.”

The article continues:

Faced with high stress levels among adolescents and a mental health crisis that includes worsening suicide rates, some states are now allowing students to declare a mental health day.

In the last two years alone, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Virginia have passed bills permitting children to be absent from school for mental or behavioral health reasons, efforts that were often aided or spearheaded by students.

And in March, Utah decided that a “valid excuse” for a student’s absence will now include “mental or behavioral health,” broadening an earlier definition that referred to mental illness. The legislator who sponsored the bill, Representative Mike Winder, a Republican, told the television station KUTV in February that it was his daughter, then a senior at Southern Utah University, who suggested the idea.

Late last year the advocacy group Mental Health America surveyed teenagers about the top three things that would be most helpful for their mental health. More than half of the respondents cited the ability to take a mental health break or absence from either school or work. And in a Harris Poll of more than 1,500 teenagers conducted in May of last year, 78 percent of those surveyed said schools should support mental health days to allow students to prioritize their health.

Ben, the recent graduate, said that as a high school student he had spoken with classmates who were struggling and needed support but didn’t know where to turn. So he organized a coalition of students to improve mental health services for students in his state. This year he spent months supporting a mental health day bill in Maryland, but it stalled in the State Senate.

The article also shares some reasons that mental health days may not become a reality at more schools, at least for now:

In the New York City school system, which has more than 1 million students, a day off for mental or behavioral health reasons “would be treated like any other sick day,” Nathaniel Styer, a New York City Department of Education spokesman, said.

The phrase “mental health day” might make some kids and parents uncomfortable. With that in mind, the school board in Montgomery County, Md., decided that it will excuse absences taken for “student illness and well-being,” starting in the new school year.

“We didn’t want to call it a mental health day, because we know there is still stigma around that,” Karla Silvestre, the school board vice president, told Education Week in June.

Schools are also experimenting with other methods beyond mental health days to help students cope with their daily stressors. The Jordan School District in South Jordan, Utah, is using “wellness rooms,” where students can decompress for 10 minutes if they are feeling overwhelmed. And some schools in Colorado have created “oasis rooms,” a student lounge staffed with peer counselors and other resources.

Click here to read the full article on NY Times.

Should Your Company Invest in Supplier Diversity Programs? The Answer is Yes.

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young female entrepreneur with arms folded smiling, blurred business background

By Yvette Montoya

When we consider the state of the United States in 2022 both socially and economically, it’s clear that our demographic is shifting and that Americans believe that social responsibility is more important than ever.

Companies that want to stay relevant in this economy need to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs and initiatives. A 2017 Cone Communications CSR study stated that 87 percent of consumers would purchase a product that aligned with their own values, and 76 percent would boycott a brand if it supported an issue that went against their beliefs. So, it’s a good time for companies to evaluate what their corporate social responsibility (CSR) looks like and where it needs improvement.

There are four types of corporate social responsibility: Environmental, philanthropic, ethical and economic responsibility– and supplier diversity programs have the potential to achieve all four categories. In a world that’s increasingly looking to employers to create stability and treat employees fairly, supplier diversity programs not only give companies a competitive edge but also make them more likely to maintain high standards of ethics. Implementing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) positions businesses to create a positive experience for employees, vendors and the community at large.

Here are three reasons why every company should take supplier diversity programs seriously:

  1. You Get to Be a Leader in Social Responsibility

Companies that choose to focus intentionally on investing in Black and Latinx, women-owned, and LGBTQ+ businesses build trust with their customer base and inspire other business leaders to examine their own company practices. When we create transparency related to how products are sourced and/or hiring and management practices, we put our money where our mouth is, and so will your customers. According to Cone Communications, three out of five Americans believe that companies should spearhead social and environmental change. And eighty-seven percent of Americans said they’d buy a product because a company advocated for an issue they care about.

Although there may be some challenges in finding minority-owned vendors that comply with a buyer’s procurement requirements, there are two solutions to this. One being creating mentoring and training programs for diverse suppliers to help them meet the standards of the certification process. The other is to partner with relevant councils and chambers of commerce that provide these support systems. When value is created through tangible solutions, everyone wins.

  1. Investing in DEI will Foster Innovation and Sales

Treating DEI like an option or something that isn’t deserving of attention means that customers will see that you’re not taking your CSR seriously. Corporate social responsibility initiatives can be the best public relations — as well as marketing — tool. Gen Z and Millennials are experts at spotting inauthenticity. A company that positions authentically with real company-wide efforts and accountability will be viewed favorably in the eyes of consumers, investors and regulators. Honest initiatives attract opportunities and employees that match an organization’s convictions.

CSR initiatives can also improve employee engagement and satisfaction — key measures that drive retention. Finally, corporate social responsibility initiatives by nature force business leaders to examine practices related to how they hire and manage employees, source products or components and deliver value to customers. All of these things create happy employees and customers, which lead to innovation, sales and a good reputation.

  1. You Get to Make an Impact on Structural Inequality in America

Supplier diversity programs are a catalyst for true social impact because thriving small businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy. Strong local businesses create jobs and higher wages, which put money back into the community and drive economic growth. Another plus of supplier diversity is the impact it will have on the company at large and the economy overall. Supplier diversity promotes healthy competition by increasing the pool of possible suppliers. This can lead to potentially lower costs and a better product quality. Not only that, bringing in people from different backgrounds or from backgrounds that reflect the community your company serves can result in better marketing, unique solutions to old problems, as well as innovative ways to meet your customer’s needs.

With midterm elections underway, it’s a good idea for businesses to be on the right side of key issues, including racial and gender equality and environmental sustainability. This gives corporations the opportunity to work collaboratively with businesses in a way that combats racial discrimination, all while empowering the public, creating economic opportunity and enhancing their business.

Yvette Montoya is a Los Angeles native and journalist who is equal parts content creator and writer. She covers everything from issues of spirituality and politics to beauty and entertainment. Her journalistic work has been featured on Refinery29, Teen Vogue, ArtBound, HipLatina, Mitu, and she’s a regular contributor for POPSUGAR.

New Global Head of the Office of Disability Inclusion Is Taking Care of Business

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Bryan Gill seated at desk with guitars in the background

Bryan Gill has big plans for recruiting and welcoming neurodiverse colleagues to JPMorgan Chase.

On his desk in Plano, Texas, Bryan Gill has several guitar picks from Graceland with the initials TCB, which stand for Taking Care of Business — a personal motto Elvis Presley adopted in the early 1970s.

The motto has personal meaning for Gill, the new Global Head of the Office of Disability Inclusion for JPMorgan Chase. He and his team are creating a comprehensive strategy for cultivating neurodivergent talent with structured, tailored processes for support and career development.

“Taking care of business is a mindset I’ve always had,” Gill says, “because there are times when you’ve just got to put your nose down, get in there and get things done.”

And this is one of those times.

Gill was named global head of JPMorgan Chase’s Office of Disability Inclusion in October 2022. Previously, he served as the firm’s first global head of Neurodiversity and led BeST (the Business Solutions Team), a program to increase opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

A 19-year veteran of the firm, Gill is operations focused. While working as National Operations Manager for Commercial Banking Wholesale Lending Services, Gill was tapped in 2018 to help a team explore a question from a client: Could colleagues with IDD do value-added work aligned with the firm’s culture and how it does business?

After a year of research and benchmarking with other employers, the team wrote a business plan, submitted it to the HR Operating Committee and gained their approval. Then, when a position was posted to lead BeST, Gill knew he couldn’t pass up the privilege of being considered for the role.

“By that point I’d spent time with the community and understood the amazing opportunity we were missing, so I was compelled to apply for the job,” he says. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career.”

Fast forward to 2022: BeST has been rolled out in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago markets, and the firm’s Autism at Work program is established in nine countries. In addition to moving those programs forward, Gill is using his operational mindset to better enable and support the firm’s neurodivergent community as a whole.

“There are more than 600 different neurodivergent conditions out there, and we know many of them are represented here at the firm,” says Gill, citing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) among them.

While Autism at Work and BeST utilize clearly defined sourcing channels (e.g., colleges and universities, advocacy agencies, vocational rehabilitation programs, referrals), many employees with neurodiverse conditions across the globe joined the firm through conventional recruiting channels.

Gill points out that JPMorgan Chase has a responsibility to make the workplace the best it can be for people who think differently, regardless of whether they choose to self-identify their disability status with the company.

“A colleague may not self-disclose as being neurodiverse, and that’s a very personal choice that I respect,” he notes. “But this colleague needs to know how and where to get help when they need it. Conversely, if they do self-disclose — which we advocate — then we’ll work with their manager and support framework to help ensure they get what they need to be successful.”

Gill and his team are continually evaluating the firm’s global “ecosystem” — in other words, resources ranging from Health and Wellness and the Employee Assistance Program to Recruiting and Global Real Estate — to identify not only opportunities for support but also gaps for improvement.

“My goal is to amplify, elevate and enhance the amazing resources we have that support all employees, and ensure they take into account our neurodivergent colleagues’ needs,” he says. “The way I view my job is to remove barriers and enable talented neurodivergent colleagues to enter the workforce and thrive here, and to scale the firm’s neurodivergent hiring efforts more rapidly.”

Gill notes that neurodiverse job candidates first have to be qualified to do the work before being considered for employment. And he emphasizes that the strategy being honed is not charity-focused or a marketing play — it’s a business strategy.

“I’m an operations practitioner, so I think about everything in terms of process and process improvement,” he says.

Gill admits that you can have all the talent engagement processes in the world, but if they’re not driving results — and, in this case, tapping underrepresented talent segments — then the work is for naught.

He credits his small team for being the “secret sauce” — operational practitioners who are skilled at matching people’s capabilities to business needs and running the strategy like a business. And they know the value of fostering a company culture that treats people with respect while appreciating their different ways of thinking.

“The colleague you encounter at the coffee bar may process information differently than you, but you expect to meet diversity here at JPMorgan Chase,” Gill concludes. “If more of us can position ourselves as patient coaches and engage with our colleagues in a way that supports them, then this will be a better place for everyone.”

Learn more about how our Office of Disability Inclusion is creating opportunities for qualified people with disabilities, and explore our Careers site for open job opportunities at the firm.

‘Deaf’ is not a bad word: ASL event teaches students deaf etiquette

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From left, Information Specialist, Debby Zeigler, has worked at GHC for 29 years and was previously a counselor for the deaf and hard-of-hearing program. Admissions Counselor, Trish Linsdey, is certified in ASL.

By Russell Chesnut, Six Smile Post

Students were given hands-on experience with American Sign Language and insight into the deaf community at Student Engagement’s ASL basics event on Oct. 18.

Information Specialist, Debby Zeigler, and Admissions Counselor, Trish Lindsey, led the class of 17 over Zoom and in person. Rebecca Cowan-Story translated for Zeigler, who was born deaf and uses ASL to communicate.

Lindsey and Zeigler used a slide presentation to teach the attendees how to sign the alphabet, colors, basic greetings and questions. The audience was encouraged to follow along to practice.

“I learned how to sign an entire sentence,” said Samantha Lewis, Cartersville student, “I was able to say it to our host and it genuinely made me happy.”

The event included a conversation about etiquette for communicating with those who are deaf.

“Speak directly and clearly,” said Lindsey, “Don’t feel like you’ve got to talk any slower. Definitely don’t speak up. Just keep talking normally.”

Lindsey said that even if there is an interpreter present, the speaker should still face and speak directly to the person they are communicating with.

Lindsey emphasized that using facial expressions when speaking to deaf individuals helps to convey meaning when signing.

“For example,” said Lindsey, “if I’m telling you I’m really upset about something, I’m not going to sit here and have a smile on my face, right? I’m going to look really upset about it, or I’m going to look really confused, or whatever that emotion is. You’re matching that with your face.”

The presentation included a list of do’s and don’ts to follow when communicating with deaf individuals.

“Number one: ‘Deaf’ is not a bad word,” said Lindsey, “One of the things that is important to know is it’s not a hearing impairment for them.”

Zeigler said “the term ‘hearing impairment’ itself really is offensive today to many people. It is very offensive to me.”

Terminology like “hearing impaired,” “deaf-mute” and “deaf and dumb” can be misleading and harmful when used to describe individuals who are deaf.

“When they say that I’m hearing impaired, I’m like ‘ugh!’” said Zeigler, “It’s almost like . . . If I were to drag my nails on the chalkboard.“

“A lot of people in the deaf community do not look at deafness as an impairment, because there’s nothing that they cannot do,” said Lindsey.

“If she (Zeigler) wants to go sit at a concert, she can go sit at a concert,” said Lindsey, “She drives. She goes to work. She goes and does all of these things we typically would do as just any other person who can hear.”

“So, for her that’s not an impairment. That’s just who she is,” Lindsey said.

An example of a hearing impairment would be if someone who grew up hearing lost their ability to hear.

“I walked away more aware of how to approach someone who is deaf,” said Lewis.

Student Engagement is using the ASL basics event to see if there is interest in an ASL club or certification course in the future.
Lewis says that if the certification course becomes a reality, she will be the first person to sign up for it.

Click here to read the full article on the Six Smile post.

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