This October marks the 75th National Disability Employment Awareness Month, also known as DEAM. It is part of the Disability Rights Movement, which is meant to provide equal rights and opportunities for all individuals with disabilities.
Just like a person’s preferred pronouns, it’s important to be mindful and understanding of the language surrounding disabilities and identities. While both Disability Awareness Month and DEAM celebrate the diversity of individuals with disabilities and aim to raise awareness, DEAM’s main focus is to spread awareness of employment and disability identity.
According to the American Psychological Association, there are different kinds of identities for those with disabilities and each identity varies based on the person’s sense of self.
Jacquelyn Gerali, disability management specialist for the Disability Support Services office at Cal State Fullerton, encourages everyone to use person-first language, such as saying “a person with a disability” instead of “a disabled person” when unsure of someone’s disability identity as it is more inclusive and respectful.
“Another important item is to avoid making any assumptions about disability identities, whether disabilities can be seen or not,” Gerali said in an email with the Daily Titan. “I have found that every person’s experience with disability factors is unique to that individual. The uniqueness must be honored and respected.”
Gerali noted that the office is a campus resource, not special treatment or special privileges. It’s true to the Disability Rights Movement in that it provides access to people with disabilities.
The resources offered through the office are available all year and students do not have to register prior to the start of the semester, Gerali added.
José Castillo, a senior psychology major at CSUF, is an advocate for raising awareness for those with disabilities.
During normal semester operations, Castillo said he struggled to get an elevator to take him down to the campus buildings’ ground floor. When an elevator would arrive at his floor, it would be full with no room for him in his wheelchair, leaving him waiting for 30 minutes at a time, he said.
He said that the worst part was that there weren’t any students who realized he was waiting and offered to take the stairs instead so that he could take the elevator. Because of this, it was important for him to help implement stickers around campus to help those with disabilities.
Within two weeks of meeting with the office’s director, the dean of students and vice president of student affairs, blue and orange stickers were placed across campus to shed light on an issue that had been overlooked.
In addition to utilizing Disability Support Services, Castillo is also the president of the Abled Advocators, which is a student-led organization on campus for students with and without disabilities.
Abled Advocators is a safe place for students to break down common stereotypes in regard to individuals with disabilities. It also aims to be inclusive and educate students by raising awareness of different disabilities.
“This is a club that emphasizes solidarity, a place for acceptance, a safe space,” Castillo said.
Though she believes that awareness and visibility of individuals with disabilities have increased since the beginning of the Disability Awareness Movement, Gerali said there’s still work to be done for this community.