Downton Abbey: A Disability-Inclusive Workplace?

Mrs. Patmore, the cook, experiences vision loss. Image credit: PBS

Editor’s Note: The following has been cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Labor’s blog.

Like many people, I’m currently relishing escaping to Downton Abbey for an hour each Sunday night.  For those who haven’t succumbed to this show’s lure, it follows the lives of an aristocratic family and their servants on an English country estate during the early 20th century – a time of dramatic social change.

I’m well aware that on one level, the show is a soap opera in (very) fancy clothing. Downton’s “upstairs” residents seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dressing for and eating dinner, but that’s easy to accept because the costumes and conversations are such a treat.

Visual feast aside, though, the show has some serious subthemes. Most of these relate to changing social mores and are fairly transparent. But others are more nuanced, and one I’ve observed with interest over the years is the show’s depiction of disability-inclusive workplace practices.

As head of the estate and thus employer of many servants, the family patriarch, Lord Grantham, has on several occasions acted wisely when it comes to supporting employees with disabilities. While his character typically longs for the past, on this issue he’s very forward thinking − and I believe today’s employers can learn from his actions.

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We ALL Need Mentors!

National Mentoring Month

By Guest Bloggers Jennifer Sheehy, Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, and David Shapiro, President and CEO, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership

Mentoring, at its core, guarantees young people that there is someone who cares about them, assures them they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges, and makes them feel like they matter. Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic and professional situations. By preparing young people for college and careers, mentoring also helps develop the future workplace talent pipeline. Mentors can help prepare their mentees for professional careers and assist with their workplace skills. Ultimately, mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity.

Yet one in three young people will grow up without this critical asset and youth with disabilities tend to have even fewer mentoring opportunities.

To affirm the importance of mentoring, every president since 1990 has proclaimed January to be National Mentoring Month. In his 2016 proclamation, President Obama declared that “[w]hen given a chance to use their talents and abilities to engage in their communities and contribute to our world, our Nation’s youth rise to the challenge. They make significant impacts in their communities and shape a brighter future for coming generations.” The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and MENTOR: The National Partnership, are collaborating on this blog to help ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in the movement to expand mentoring opportunities for all.

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Making it Accessible: A State of the Union that Everyone Can Experience

President Obama's Final State of the Union Address, January 12, 2016 at 9 p.m. Eastern time

Editor’s Note: The following has been cross-posted from the White House’s blog.

By Maria Town, Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement, the White House

With every State of the Union address, we have found new ways to share the President’s speech with the American people. Since this is his last one, we want to make sure that everyone can connect and engage with his address. That’s why we’ve worked hard to make sure that this is accessible in every way, so that all Americans, no matter where or how they tune in, can fully experience everything we’re doing around the State of the Union.

To start, check out the President’s preview video.

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Top 10 Guest Blogs of 2015

A banner spelling out 2015 above text saying Top 10 Guest Blogs, with faded blue stars in the background.

By Carolyn VanBrocklin, Communications Specialist, Disability.gov

Last week, we celebrated the end of 2015 and rang in the start of 2016. This season is a time to reflect on accomplishments from the previous year and focus on goals for the New Year. Disability.gov’s year in review includes some notable highlights from this blog. We conducted our fourth annual “No Boundaries” Photo Project and met seven incredible people with fascinating stories – a Paralympic medalist, an aspiring photographer, a biscuit-maker, an advocate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing in the military and three other hard-working professionals who use their strengths to help others.

In July of 2015, the entire disability community celebrated a huge milestone: the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Disability.gov was proud to post blog contributions by several notable individuals who reflected on their experiences with the ADA and looked forward to how it will continue to shape the years ahead. From former senator Tom Harkin to Andrew J. Imparato, executive director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, we are so thankful that our guest bloggers took the time to share their thoughts with our readers.

Finally, on to a Disability.gov tradition: our annual countdown of the Top 10 Guest Blogs. Among the blog posts our readers enjoyed most were a passionate plea from Jodi Bainter, whose son became an above-the-knee amputee after a lawnmower accident, practical financial advice for paying for long-term care while maintaining a budget, information about working from home and more. Three of our ADA guest bloggers made it into the top ten as well.

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The Impact of Disability Inclusion in the Media

Dominick Evans, Film Director, Writer and Activist

By Guest Blogger Dominick Evans, Film Director, Writer and Activist

I am a filmmaker, and movies and television are my life, so I planned to spend this entire article discussing disability in film and television specifically. However, in the vast and diverse disability community, something media-oriented exploded across the Internet recently. It involves a popular and well-funded website that says its mission is to support people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Unfortunately, the website often fails to accurately include the voices of individuals with disabilities themselves within its framework.

I mention this because what is happening with the website in question is a microcosm of the kind of treatment people with disabilities receive in their everyday lives as a result of media representation. How disability is portrayed can greatly affect how people treat those with disabilities and how we are treated by others leads to even more stigmatizing and oppressing narratives about disability in all forms of media. Disability narratives without the inclusion of actual individuals with disabilities are missing a central part of the dialogue – the people such narratives affect the most.

In all forms of media, the diversity of the disability experience is lacking. Most messages are meant to invoke pity, fear or an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and inspiration. Rarely do such stories fall somewhere in between these accounts. People with disabilities are seldom included in the actual storytelling. Stories are told about disability, not about people with disabilities. These stories tend to only be focused on disability, with little intersection on issues like race, sex and sexuality.

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