A silver lining amid a year of uncertainty
The UC Davis Health DiversABILITY employee resource group (ERG) doubled its membership within the last year. Notably, several faculty and staff without disabilities joined the ERG as supportive allies.
What was it about 2021 – amid a dreadful pandemic – that drew people to DiversABILITY?
Carolyn Ramirez, internal communications program manager and chair of the DiversABILITY ERG, and Sarah Janus, sustainability officer and vice chair of DiversABILITY, attribute increased engagement to the pandemic. The uncertainty of COVID-19 magnified people’s needs for connection and joining an employee resource group seemed like a great place to start building a renewed sense of belonging.
Many members of the ERG have expressed gratitude to have found a safe place to land, be themselves, and learn and engage with other colleagues at UC Davis Health.
Janus and Ramirez shared their insights and top priorities for the resource group in 2022:
How has COVID-19 impacted DiversABILITY?
Because the pandemic forced many employees to pivot to virtual meetings and events, Janus believes this gave people – including individuals with disabilities – an opportunity for more accessibility.
“Being able to log-on to a meeting with the click of the button has been a wonderful benefit,” said Janus. “Sometimes we don't always have the ability to move to another location and get to a meeting at said time. Even if it’s just a few buildings behind me, sometimes weighted legs make it hard to even walk across the street.”
Janus lives with a chronic disease called multiple sclerosis, which causes nerve damage and can (at times) make it hard to move one’s muscles, leading to a heavy feeling in one’s legs.
“But here I am, sitting at my desk, able to eat my lunch, while participating in a meeting,” Janus gleefully added.
Ramirez can relate.
“I am a people-person by nature, so I admit that I miss some of the face-to-face interaction,” said Ramirez. “But having the option to stand or move during a meeting has been a relief. If I sit too long, I experience a lot of discomfort.”
Ramirez underwent hip surgery and physical therapy years ago. Unfortunately, neither offered pain relief.
“Movement isn’t just valuable for people dealing with chronic pain, it’s beneficial for everyone! We even have a Healthy UC Davis wellness program, WakeBreak, that encourages movement,” Ramirez added.
Janus and Ramirez acknowledge the pandemic has severely impacted us all in harmful ways, but they also recognize the silver linings.
"While things have been stressful for everyone, I think it’s wonderful our resource group has grown during COVID. It’s a testament that we are seeking connection, peer support and belonging."
DiversABILITY hosted virtual events for the UC Davis Health community during Principles of Community Week in February 2021 and National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October of last year.
What is DiversABILITY focused on?
DiversABILITY’s vision is to bring together people with disabilities and allies to develop resources, create a safe place and provide peer support. Their mission is to educate, create and nurture awareness of the strengths that people with disabilities bring to the UC Davis Health community, each and every day.
At monthly meetings, guest speakers – from groups such as the MIND Institute, Disability Management Services, Patient Experience, Healthy UC Davis, Society for the Blind – provide educational information and expertise about programs and initiatives serving UC Davis Health faculty, staff, and patients.
The ERG also serves as a resource for other departments.
Last year, the DiversABILITY executive committee was invited to meet with various teams – Facilities Planning, Human Resources, faculty at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing – to provide ideas and feedback about how to increase accessibility and inclusivity for faculty, students, and staff living with visible and hidden disabilities.
“We’re trying to shift the mindset from solely a medical model of disability to a more universal, social model of disability,” shared Ramirez.
What are your ERG’s top priorities in 2022?
“We’ve been really proactive this past year and plan to keep the momentum going,” said Janus.
Ramirez added, “It’s been rewarding to see more allies engage and participate in our meetings and events. Growing our ERG will continue to be a top priority.”
DiversABILITY has also been actively involved in creating curricula focused on destigmatizing misconceptions about people with disabilities. Ramirez has led a few workshops, where she invites people to think differently about disabilities.
“When you think about it, all of us will experience some type of disability – if not several – at some point in our life. As we age, our eyes and minds are not as sharp, our muscles and joints are not as strong, and our ears cannot detect sound as well. So, why not have a more inclusive and empathetic mindset about disabilities from the get-go?” asked Ramirez.
"People with disabilities are simply asking what any non-disabled person would ask: how do I go about my work, life, relationships to the best of my ability?'
The DiversABILITY ERG is open to all and welcomes allies and supporters. People do not need to have a disability to join.
“We care about creating an inclusive and fun environment for all members of DiversABILITY. Anyone that works for the health system is welcome to join our group,” concluded Janus.