CAREERS & the disABLED Magazine, established in 1986, is the nation's first and only career-guidance and recruitment magazine for people with disabilities who are at undergraduate, graduate, or professional levels. Each issue features a special Braille section.
CAREERS & the disABLED has won many awards, including several media "Award of Excellence" acknowledgments from the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.
This magazine reaches people with disabilities nationwide at their home addresses, colleges and universities, and chapters of student and professional organizations through a paid subscription.
CAREERS & the disABLED
» Featured Articles
» Subscription Information
» Reader Survey
» Companies Actively Recruiting
Employers & Employees of the Year Congratulating the Winners: 29th Annual Awards
This year marks the 29th anniversary of CAREERS & the disABLED's Annual Employee and Employer of the Year Awards. Find out on the following pages who the 2021 winners are, and join us in congratulating this year's talented and deserving winners - all stars in their own right - as we honor their roles as trailblazers and advocates.
For almost 30 years CAREERS & the disABLED has been acknowledging, honoring, and celebrating the personal and professional achievements of noteworthy individuals with disabilities via its Annual Employee of the Year Awards. The awards committee assigned to choose this year's roster of 10 talented and remarkable role models profiled in this issue found each winner to have made prodigious contributions to the workforce in and outside of his and her respective workplace, and the community outside of work. We reveal this year's winners on the following pages. Read on for a special look that honors the roles of each winning individual as a trailblazer and advocate while underscoring his or her unique expertise, career highlights, and advocacy for the Disability Community.
In addition, we unveil this year's Employer of the Year winners. CAREERS & the disABLED recognizes Booz Allen Hamilton with the Private-Sector Employer of the Year Award and National Security Agency (NSA) with the Public-Sector Employer of the Year Award. The congratulatory section honoring this year's winners in this issue kicks off with their company profiles, underscoring their commitment to recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting people with disabilities.
Employee of the Year: Sarah Comstock
Comstock Leads Ally's Internal Communication Strategy
"I remember standing in my driveway - I had just gotten out of the car and was wearing hearing aids for the first time. I could hear the wind blowing and the rustling of the leaves in the trees. These weren't new sounds to me, but I had forgotten what they sounded like. I realized it had been so long since I had heard them," recalls Sarah Comstock, executive director of corporate communications for Detroit, MI-headquartered Ally Financial, who was diagnosed with congenital hearing loss and began wearing hearing aids at 28 years old.
As a communications professional and passionate storyteller, Comstock has given a voice to employees, leaders and the Ally enterprise, according to nominator Allyson Parker, executive director, HR.
In Comstock's words: "You can tell a lot about a company's culture by how they talk to their employees. At Ally, we're intentionally conversational - we bend the traditional rules of corporate communications, evoke pop culture references and create content - even when tackling difficult topics, like systemic racism - that's approachable. It's all reflective of the culture of inclusion we fiercely protect."
Comstock leads the development and execution of Ally's internal communication strategy and is the voice of the enterprise. In her role she's created programs that are accessible, informative, relevant, and innovative. Some of these programs include Ally's EqualAlly Human Campaign, a weekly digest of news clips and happenings called BriefAlly, an innovative enterprise-wide competition called FutureFest, and Ally's intranet.
In 2020 Comstock and her team served as the voice for the company about difficult, emotional, and life-saving topics: health and safety, social injustice, mental well-being, and now vaccine education.
Kathie Patterson, Ally's chief human resources officer, shares: "Ally's employee engagement surveys have never been stronger - with employees commenting on how connected and well-informed they feel about all of the evolving and unexpected events happening in the world. Sarah has been and continues to be the catalyst for creating connections, even when we're all apart."
Hearing loss isn't always a visible disability, which may lead others to assume an individual doesn't need an accommodation. In a world with white noise backgrounds, video content, and people talking over each other on Zoom, it can be difficult to distinguish voices and capture everything being said. Advancements in technology, including Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids, have been game-changing for creating a more accessible environment for those with hearing loss.
Comstock's daughter was also diagnosed with congenital hearing loss at age five. "This offered an opportunity for Sarah to raise awareness about hearing loss at her daughters' schools. She's served as an advocate for her daughter, intervening on accommodations and normalizing wearing hearing aids at a young age," notes Parker.
"I want her to have safe spaces to be herself - recognizing our now-bionic ears are something unique, but not bad. After all, not everyone can really have a continual soundtrack to their lives running through their ears courtesy of Bluetooth streaming," shares Comstock, who holds a Bachelor of Science in biological and cognitive psychology and communications studies from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.
Comstock is also a member of Impact 100 Metro Detroit (MI), volunteers her writing and communication skills with Catch a Fire, serves as the HR advisor for Women ALLYs employee resource group, has mentored numerous students through Wayne State University's First Generation Mentorship Program, and is active in school activities for her daughters - even serving as "cookie mom" for two years for Girl Scout Daisies and Brownies.
Employee of the Year: Atiba Page
Page Develops Disruptive & Innovative D&I Programs at Bristol Myers Squibb Company
"Atiba Page is a magnetic and energetic diversity and inclusion (D&I) leader that enjoys collaborating with her peers and community leaders who want to create healthy disruptions!" enthuses nominator Erin Pierpoint, director, early in career pipeline programs, and diversity and inclusion at Princeton, NJ-headquartered Bristol Myers Squibb Company about Page, who was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in February 2019.
Page has had more than 100 doctor visits, six rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, more than 30 rounds of radiation treatments, a single right mastectomy, and gamma knife and MRI thermal ablation brain surgery. And that's all within the last two years since her diagnosis.
At the same time, Pierpoint points out that, as manager, talent acquisition: diversity recruitment, "Page and her smile are developing and facilitating disruptive and innovative diversity and inclusion programs and activities across the Bristol Myers Squibb enterprise."
Pierpoint adds: "Over the last year Atiba led the first virtual internship-co-op program, has taken a leadership role supporting DAWN People & Business Resource Group as a Workforce Pillar co-lead, and supported the launch of the DAWN employee Cancer Support Network."
While facing her own chronic health issues, Page chose to use her voice to speak up for other chronic illness sufferers. Her passion for identifying, building, and celebrating the potential she sees in others helped her plant the seed for Khronic Kutie's. "As the CEO of Khronic Kutie's, Atiba uses her likeliness to raise awareness around the daily struggles of chronic illness sufferers across the U.S.," notes Pierpoint. "Khronic Kutie's was created to help differently abled free-thinkers design their individual 'yellow brick road' to success! Atiba is ready to empower, inspire, and motivate others by teaching individuals how to market and bring their differently abled authentic selves to any work environment!"
Page is also a founding board member for Sharpened Mindz, a Middlesex, NJ non-profit agency that's focused on giving back to underserved communities across New Jersey. The team has been able to give more than $50,000 in donations to citizens in need. The donations include pocketbooks filled with hygiene products for homeless women and girls, and holiday baskets and toys for children. A partnership with the NJ Reentry program has also been created to host resume and interview workshops for men and women looking to return to the workforce after spending time in prison. Additionally, Page is a founding board member for SheIs.Org a private women's group located in Essex County, NJ. The group provides financial, educational, and mentoring services to more than 2,000 women who are often overlooked or forgotten in the urban areas of the Garden State. The group is a mix of single mothers, former drug addicts, sexual and domestic violence abuse survivors, and women who are head of household that live below the poverty level.
"I'm happy to announce that Atiba has been selected to be a 2021 Living Beyond Breast Cancer ambassador. In her new role she will host meet-ups, lead fundraisers and educational panels, and partner with medical doctors to raise awareness about why Stage IV breast cancer deserves more research," shares Pierpoint. Page was also scheduled to lead a cancer walk later in April 2021 for Compassionate Heart to Heart, a non-profit organization that provides services for cancer and alopecia patients.
Most recently she used her voice to share her own health disparity experience with the Rutgers University Foundation. Read more at support.rutgers.edu/news-stories/the-path-toward-health-equity.
Employee of the Year: Cory Joseph
Joseph Ensures Healthcare Is Accessible at CVS Health
As director, digital engineering accessibility at CVS Health, Cory Joseph leads the digital accessibility engineering for CVS Pharmacy, Retail, Caremark and Specialty digital assets. "Cory uses his experiences to inform and educate teams to have a deeper understanding of the experiences of people with disabilities in order to learn, understand, empathize and all together be better informed to build products for use by all, no matter the ability or disability," says nominator Monica Goel, digital engineering accessibility at Woonsocket, RI-headquartered CVS Health.
"Cory is a prolific advocate for people with disabilities, and for accessibility, and understands the need, importance of building partnerships and alliances that will help further the understanding of and drive support for accessibility across the enterprise." He previously worked as a digital marketing manager for six years in Intel's data center group. After taking on freelance work for front-end/web development, Joseph began to take on a focus for accessibility and inclusive design. He then shifted his career completely to UX engineering working for Microsoft - across consumer and enterprise products.
"Five years later," says Joseph, "I'm managing a team of 20 as a director of engineering manager - the team focuses on ensuring healthcare is accessible." Today Joseph is recognized as invaluable member of the CVS Health team, a leader who is always present in helping drive change and promoting a better understanding of people with disabilities, and educating others about why accessibility is important as a means to serve and support people with disabilities via the use of CVS Health's digital products and services.
"I am disabled," shares Joseph, who was born blind with septo-optic dysplasia (de Morsier syndrome). He grew up in Cleveland, OH, earned a Bachelor of Science in information systems and BSBA for international business at the University of Missouri, and completed an international MBA program at Portland State University. "I rely on a screen reader and Braille to do my work. I use a guide dog for mobility. Currently, I'm on dog number three. Her name is Wiley."
While active in the Startup Community in Portland, OR, Joseph led the first Startup Weekend fully dedicated to accessibility and to revamping the Startup Weekend experience for inclusion.
During the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, "I've kept myself busy by re-learning to play a five-piece drum kit, playing tabletop role-playing-games (DnD) twice a week, and rowing on an indoor rower while gyms have been closed," he says. Outside of that, "I like to travel, to explore new cities, and to find life-changing coffee and good beer," he adds.
Employee of the Year: Sheree Carara
Carara Is an Advocate & Leader at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. is proud that Sheree Carara has been named Employee of the Year for 2021 by CAREERS & the disABLED. Carara is a product manager, digital channels, corporate and investment bank based in New York, NY. Originally from Kingston, Jamaica, she joined JPMorgan Chase as an analyst in 2007, and has worked her way up at the firm.
Carara was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) on July 3, 2013. "Having had MS for more than half of her tenure at the firm, it's made her work even harder to advance in her career (she became a vice president in 2016) while becoming an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities," notes nominator Jim Sinocchi, head of the global office of disability inclusion at New York, NY-headquartered JPMorgan Chase.
Early on she didn't self-disclose her disability, attempting to hide the fact she considered herself "less than" because of her MS. A short while later, Carara decided to self-identify so she could freely discuss her disability with her manager and her team.
"The minute I was able to self-identify - and people understood - my job became easier, because I didn't have to hide anymore," Carara says in a 2017 video posted on the corporate website, jpmorganchase.com/news-stories/what-is-the-key-to-disability-inclusion-in-the-workplace.
"Sheree has been an articulate role model for employees with disabilities externally and internally," notes Sinocchi.
In fact, in 2015, the National Disability Institute invited Carara to be one of 25 distinctive individuals with disabilities to share their personal experiences about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) changed their lives on the ADA's 25th anniversary. The compilation was called National Disability Institute Presents 25@25.
A year later, as a member of the JPMorgan Chase's Access Ability business resource group global leadership team, she took charge of managing internal blog posts from colleagues for National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). She was also chosen to participate in the firm's VP Academy (a competitive, six-month-long program focused on leadership development), and has since returned to share her experience as a person with a disability with other participants.
And while she's been a vocal advocate for self-identifying for years, Carara submitted a "selfie" video that was chosen to lead the firm's 2020 campaign to attract more employees to self-identify.
"Self-identifying as woman of color - a Black woman - who has a disability is very important to me," she says in the video.
Additionally, during 2020, she hosted an hour-long, all-employee global webcast with internal disability experts celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ADA, and she wrote about the need to stay strong while working remotely during the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in a story on the firm's corporate intranet.
Carara also believes that part of her journey, as a person with a disability, is to give back to others. A certified yoga instructor, she partnered with a physical therapist and a personal trainer to lead weekend sessions focused on the "mind, body and soul" for residents with disabilities in New Rochelle, NY. The community sessions were offered free of charge for nearly two years prior to the pandemic.
"On behalf of JPMorgan Chase, it's an absolute honor to have a person of Sheree's caliber working here at the firm and serving as a culture carrier," adds Sinocchi.
Employee of the Year: Aimee Jo Flynn
Flynn Rises Through the Digital Ranks at NSWC, Crane Division
Aimee Jo Flynn was born with cerebral palsy, which affects her movement and speech, and, at the age of nine, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. She currently uses a wheelchair and voice communicator to overcome anything life may present. When Flynn started school, medical professionals told her family it'd be best for her to be home-schooled, but she went on to graduate from high school in 1989. She continued on to Ball State University, graduating in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts in general studies.
To assist in her search for employment, Flynn returned to school, and, in 2003, she graduated from Indiana University with a Bachelor of Arts in computer science. After completing her education, it took Aimee 10 years to find employment. During that time, she struggled through a lot of prejudice, which revolved around her cerebral palsy. In 2011, her skills were mentioned to the commander at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Crane Division, whose headquarters is at NAVSEA, Washington, DC. After years of diligence, she was given the opportunity to prove herself.
"Acquiring the position at NSWC Crane, despite her speech barriers, was a huge accomplishment, and during the past 10 years she's flourished," according to nominators Amy Fellers, branch manager and Jared Evans, division manager at NSWC Crane.
"Just within three years of her career at Crane, Aimee also completed an Engineering Level III Certificate from the Defense Acquisition University. For nine years at Crane, Aimee supported the Open Architecture Software Development Branch with software development support, graphical user interface development support, software configuration management support, database support, and software testing support." In fact, they indicate, Flynn has provided team collaboration for many of the branch's projects. She was recognized for her skills, and accepted her current position as computer scientist to support the Executive Operations Branch.
"She was, and continues to be, a valuable asset during a division reorganization," note Fellers and Evans. "As the old division transitioned into the new, Aimee made great strides developing the Division's SharePoint site and operations support. In her 10th year at Crane, Aimee continues to work closely with project, branch, and division-level personnel to aid the Division in its goals."
Furthermore, it's worth noting that Flynn's accomplishments stretch farther than her career. She's been involved in a Teen Outreach Program for mentally and physically challenged teens and adults as a counselor with Camp Isanogel in Muncie, IN. In this outreach program, she took participants on outings such as camping and shopping, and to the Children's Museum.
"Because of her involvement in the community, her positive nature and influence has come to touch many lives," share Fellers and Evans. Flynn is an honored and loved member of the Maneuver, Surveillance, and Engagement Division, too. "Her community involvement, positive attitude, and unwavering support provides a great example to many who go through similar struggles. She's proven to be invaluable in her employment and volunteer outreach, and she'll always serve as a great role model," add Fellers and Evans.
"Aimee demonstrates the truth of perseverance; accomplishments don't always come quickly, but with determination and a great deal of enthusiasm, anything is possible."
Employee of the Year: Michael Palese
Palese Drives Corporate Communications at Stellantis
Today, Michael Palese is manager, corporate communications for Auburn Hills, MI-headquartered Stellantis. Nominator Cathi Truscott, manager, diversity, inclusion and engagement describes him as "a communications professional who brings a unique blend of strategic and tactical abilities to high-profile, high-risk, corporate-issue, reputation and crisis-management situations."
Palese's career began in corporate communications within the public sector with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He quickly took on higher profile roles as manager of local government, community, and media relations, where he navigated numerous challenging issues while representing major projects such as the World Trade Center, and the region's ports and airports.
His expertise in the realm of government, the media and grassroots organizing strategy attracted NYNEX (a regional Bell operating company - now Verizon), which recruited Palese to play a very key role in a newly formed public policy communications group. At the time, the regional Bells were developing plans to engage key communities of interest - such as educators, heathcare professionals, disability advocates, economic developers, environmentalists, and policymakers - to support policy changes in Washington, DC and the states to unleash investment in the public-switched telephone network.
NYNEX created a new corporate position for Palese to lead strategic alliances. In this role he combined his unique strategic and technical capabilities to re-organize, restructure and retool NYNEX's local community relations resources to better support the competitive enterprise enabled by the just-won, public-policy victories. "His reputation as an innovator and thought leader with the ability to create a truly benchmark, totally integrated relationship infrastructure resulted in international recognition, including invitations as speaker, writer, and counselor in professional forums across the globe," notes Truscott.
While serving on the board of directors of the Issue Management Council, his peers elected him to the position of chairperson. His innovation and leadership soon led to another invitation to help a company that wanted a sound strategy to leverage relationships into corporate intelligence that secured competitive advantage. Chrysler Corporation needed a process to identify and manage strategic issues posing risk or opportunity to corporate and brand reputations, and to manage crises. The company recruited Palese, and created a position at headquarters for him to apply his relationship, communication, and intelligence abilities to build a collaborative issue-management process.
Even as the DaimlerChrysler merger dissolved, Palese's system was adopted by Daimler in Germany as the platform for a global issue-management process. "The model has inspired development of collaborative issue management processes at other companies around the world," points out Truscott.
With greater need to build its reputation as an innovative and well-managed company, Palese then began to support executive positioning and messaging. Beyond developing strategically relevant public speeches for C-level leaders at Chrysler, he took this role to the next level and created Chrysler's executive platform strategy, fully integrating executive positioning, issue management, stakeholder engagement, philanthropy, and community relations.
In recent years, and through several iterations of the company now known as Stellantis through mergers, Palese has led the company's legal, diversity, and HR communication functions, and writes speeches for the company's COO.
Most recently, Palese played a leading role establishing the DIVERSE-abilities business resource group at Stellantis to support employees with disabilities and employee caregivers for family members with disabilities.
"His accomplishments are particularly impressive as he has managed multiple sclerosis (MS) for the past 25 years," adds Truscott about Palese, who holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts from New York University.
Employee of the Year: Christine Rumpf
Rumpf Executes Her Lightning-Fast Communications & Steadfast Advocacy Skills at TD Bank
Christine Rumpf is an account manager for Studio 361 in-house creative agency at Cherry Hill, NJ-headquartered TD Bank.
"Over the past three years, I've had the privilege of getting to know Christine as a professional and a human - and I've been nothing short of amazed by the remarkable talents, passion, and dedication she brings to the table in everything she does," shares nominator Karyn DiMattia, senior vice president and head of Studio 361. "Though I've known Christine for about eight years as a colleague in TD Bank's marketing department, and as a high-performing direct report for three years since she accepted the role of account manager to help stand up our full-service in-house creative agency (Studio 361), I didn't truly know just how amazing Christine is until the day she disclosed her invisible disability to me. It was about two years ago during a career-development conversation that she summoned the bravery needed to be transparent about her life-long challenges with Bipolar Disorder - and that single act of bravery marked a landslide of personal growth, community outreach, and employee advocacy impact that has since followed for Christine."
During the two years that have followed that moment, Rumpf:
- Disclosed her disability to all of her close peers and senior managers.
- Got involved in her local Bucks County (PA) Chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), volunteering in any way possible.
- Sparked conversations with TD's internal Diverse Abilities employee resource group to raise awareness on the importance of mental health and supporting colleagues with invisible disabilities throughout the company.
- Summoned even greater bravery in telling her story broadly across the entire company, as well as externally through TD's media outreach platform with an article about her own experience: stories.td.com/us/en/article/a-story-of-beauty-and-power.
- Has begun mentoring a number of employees who have reached out to her for support and guidance since her story became fully public.
- Increased her engagement with Bucks County NAMI to the point that she's now a board member, supporting this organization in broader ways going forward.
"And it's important to note that all of this tremendous impact and growth transpired alongside significant contributions through her day job as account manager for Studio 361," notes DiMattia.
During the past year alone, Rumpf has:
- Led the Studio 361's support of several high-impact Out-of-Home and digital campaigns in New York, NY, Philadelphia, PA, Boston, MA, and Miami, FL to extend the studio's "Unexpectedly Human" brand in meaningful and locally relevant ways.
- Managed approximately 100 local market extensions in paid and owned marketing channels in support of the annual TD Thanks You Campaign, td.mediaroom.com/2020-09-15-TDThanksYou-TD-Celebrates-and-Rewards-Making-a-Difference-in-Communities-During-COVID-19.
- Played a pivotal role in delivering crisis communications at a lightning pace - often on nights and weekends - to support our small business community through the impacts and challenges of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as part of the bank's efforts to provide more than $9 billion dollars in crucial Government Payment Protection Program loan funding to 86,000-plus customers within a few short months.
"And while it's hard to summarize all the achievements and the dimensions of Christine that are truly remarkable within so few words, this is my best attempt: I am proud of her, and I greatly appreciate your consideration of this nomination of her, and her being named by CAREERS & the disABLED as an Employee of the Year for 2021," adds DiMattia.
Employee of the Year: Benjamin W. Sides
Sides Shines as a DS Special Agent, Content Producer & Disability Advocate at the Department of State
Benjamin W. Sides is a diplomatic security (DS) special agent who is now a supervisory special agent, deputy regional security officer at U.S. Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
However, years before his current position came to be, he became disabled after losing his right leg above the knee after being struck by a truck in Antananarivo, Madagascar in November 2003 while on duty as the Embassy Regional Security Officer (RSO). "After hospitalizations, rehab, and months of physical therapy with a prosthetic leg, Sides wanted to continue as a special agent, and, because of his self-advocacy efforts, he was able to win support from senior department officials to maintain his career and resume special agent duties," notes nominator Sean Sirker, deputy assistant director, FASTC, Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
Career accomplishments for Sides include three RSO tours, an assignment as the special agent in charge of the Chicago (IL) Field Office, and a key player in the Department's largest domestic relocation - the successful move of hundreds of employees and more than $100 million in equipment from the interim training facility in West Virginia 200 miles to Blackstone, VA.
"Self-advocacy early in Ben's career soon turned to advocacy for other disabled Department employees when Ben joined the Disability Action Group (DAG) in 2008 and became a DAG officer in 2018," shares Sirker.
"Ben is tireless in his promotion of full and equal participation and inclusion of people with disabilities through outreach and by directing others to the appropriate Department resources such as the Disability Dashboard (a project Ben assisted in shaping and promoting) and highlighting DAG-sponsored events, information exchanges in which Ben is quite active and serves as a valuable resource."
He constantly seeks to improve disability employment awareness with his recruitment efforts with non-profit organizations by participating in panels, hiring events, and mentors members of the Disability Community as they seek employment information and/or navigate hiring process at Washington, DC-headquartered DOS. "Outreach is Ben's passion on behalf of the Disability Community since, in just 2020 as an example, Ben conducted dozens of external and internal information-sharing initiatives using several platforms and technologies to connect with a wide audience," continues Sirker.
"Ben is also a prolific content producer for DS and the Department, authoring articles about FASTC reasonable accommodation and disabled hiring activities for DS news briefs, and placing a piece in CAREERS & the disABLED about the Department being named Public-Sector Employer of the Year in 2020 by the magazine (Ben also helped to write the Department's award nomination)."
Working with the Office and Global Public Affairs (GPA), Sides helped organize a series of articles about Department employees with disabilities published on the Department's intranet home page via the Spotlight@State initiative in Summer 2020.
Recognizing his strong writing skills, GPA asked Sides to draft an article about DOS efforts to make facilities more accessible. To that end, he worked with the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) to help produce a piece about OBO making accessibility synonymous with diplomacy, and the result was another well-received article on State's home page.
"Ben's major outreach accomplishment in 2020 was authoring the feature article for State Magazine in July 2020 celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an article so well-written that it was recommended reading by the Secretary and Director General," adds Sirker.
Employee of the Year: Ying B. Chen
Chen Positively Impacts the Lives of Others at the Secret Service
Ying B. Chen, equal employment opportunity (EEO) specialist, Office of Equity and Employee Support Services (EES) at Washington, DC-headquartered U.S. Secret Service (USSS), has been a member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community since infancy. "However, a person only needs to be in her presence for a short time before quickly realizing that deafness doesn't define her," remarks nominator Jessie L. Lane, acting executive, Office of Equity and Employee Support Services, USSS.
"She's super talented and confident, and she's an integral member of our agency's EES staff."
A graduate of Gallaudet University, Chen holds a Bachelor of Science in computer information systems. "Her penchant for excellence in the field of IT has been invaluable to ensuring the accuracy of data analytics and other important statistical reporting requirements," notes Lane. During the past 20 years, Chen has consistently demonstrated her commitment to excellence throughout her federal government career. "Among her many duties, she serves as a lead EEO trainer and is an excellent presenter," elaborates Lane. "She proactively creates opportunities to educate 'hearing' employees about how to communicate more effectively with the agency's deaf population. In fact, Chen has returned to her alma mater as a recruiter for Gallaudet students who are interested in employment opportunities with the Secret Service. Her confident presence is a testament to her willingness to make a positive impact throughout our society." Another highlight is the prominent role that Chen plays during the United States Secret Service's Annual Unity Day celebration. During the past 10 years, she's served on the Unity Day Disability Committee. In this capacity, she's planned agency-wide events that showcased interactive displays, various musical artists, prominent speakers, and other talented members within the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community. Chen's accomplishments in her professional career mirror her commitment to community activism. As a dog lover, she renders her time, energy and efforts in support of animal rights.
She states, "I wholeheartedly believe in using my time to help save the lives of innocent animals who are in desperate need of food, medical assistance and shelter." Recognized as an outstanding role model, Chen has received the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Outstanding Employee with a Disability for the Year Award by the Office of the Inspector General.
At the end of March 2021, Chen was also invited to serve as a guest speaker for the Women's History Month program at the Office of U.S. Trade Representative's (USTR) executive office of the president. During the USTR presentation entitled, Focused on Accessibility Virtual Event, Chen spoke about her personal experience as a Deaf female who works in the federal government. Without question, this event served to stress the importance of inclusive diversity.
"Thank you, Ms. Chen, for continuing to make an invaluable impact on the lives of others," concludes Lane.
"On behalf of the U.S. Secret Service's Office of Equity and Employee Support Services, I have taken great pride in nominating her for the CAREERS & the disABLED Employee of the Year Award, I thank the members of the selection committee for considering her nomination, and I am proud that she's been named by the magazine as an Employee of the Year for 2021."
Employee of the Year: Chauncy Barnhill, Sr.
Barnhill Leverages His Business Acumen & Passion for Disability Advocacy at Wells Fargo
Chauncy Barnhill, Sr. is an operations area manager within the enterprise utility services (EUS) document capture center of excellence (DCCOE) team, a division of the Wells Fargo consumer and small business banking operations group. With more than 27 years of operations leadership experience, he's responsible for setting the strategic direction, financial forecasting, and risk mitigation practices for DCCOE functions in Charlotte, NC, and Shoreview, MN.
"Born with limited hearing in his left ear, Chauncy has a passion for working with and hiring people with disabilities," notes nominator Claudia Huizar, assistant vice president, corporate communications, San Francisco, CA-headquartered Wells Fargo & Company. "He's advocated and actively implemented disability inclusion as an operations leader through his hiring practices, and personally through his leadership with non-profit organizations."
During the last 10 years, Barnhill's group has hired more than 100 people with disabilities as managed resources, of which many were converted to full-time employees. After joining DCCOE in December 2019, he developed a formal apprenticeship program for people with disabilities eventually named Success through Identifying Diverse Abilities Employment (STRIDE).
"Currently in the pilot phase, the STRIDE goal is for DCCOE to be intentional in its efforts to recruit, develop, and support people with disabilities. This initiative also sustains the company's 7% people with disabilities employment goal. Once the pilot is complete, the goal is to scale the program to other DCCOE locations, implement across operations and potentially across the entire enterprise," explains Huizar.
The STRIDE program is in collaboration with Advocations, a 100% disability- and woman-owned, nationally accredited small business that partners with Fortune 500 companies and federal contractors to build disability employment efforts that scale. Barnhill is also very active in the community and in the industry, currently representing Wells Fargo as chairperson of the Disability:IN North Carolina (NC) state board, and previously serving as vice chairperson of the Greater Charlotte (NC) Postal Customer Council. He is a previous chairperson of the Distribution Utility Center (DUC) site diversity team, and a current member of four employee resource groups (Diverse Abilities, PRIDE, My Generations, and Black/African-American Connection). When he joined the Disability:IN NC board three years ago, the board was struggling to remain solvent while looking to continue providing educational training programs for employers and for people with disabilities looking to gain the skills needed to find employment.
Knowing he could leverage experience gained by volunteering for other non-profit organizations, such as reviewing requests for proposals from a business perspective, and knowing he could leverage political connections, he helped lead a subcommittee responsible for writing a grant proposal that was presented to the NC Developmental Disabilities Council.
This resulted in the Inroads to Employment grant, provided to the board and approved for $100,000 a year for three years ($300,000 total). These funds are used to provide job-training programs for potential employers and employees, in collaboration with community colleges across the state.
Chauncy, a native of Williamston, NC, holds a Bachelor of Science in business management, and an MBA with a concentration in organizational leadership from Liberty University.
» Feedback for the Editor
» Request Article Copy