UC Berkeley News


 Tim Landingham, Holliday Cullimore, and Derek Coates work to ensure that Berkeley's commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity includes disabled staff. (Wendy Edelstein photo)

A peer-to-peer-support resource is born
The Disability Staff Resource Network aims to empower employees seeking workplace accommodations

| 12 March 2008

Years ago, Holliday Cullimore had a frustrating initiation into the world of workplace disability accommodation. As a result, she's become involved with the Disabled Staff Resource Network (DSRN), a new program intended to save other Berkeley staff from similar trials.

Celebrating awareness
Disability Awareness Week (March 17 to 21) features events and activities for students, staff, and faculty to promote the contributions of people with disabilities throughout the world.

Monday, March 17

Noon to 1 p.m., 126 Barrows Film Screening: Beyond Disability

12:30 to 2 p.m., 123 Wheeler Disability Awareness Training Frank Blais, blind field services counselor, will lead an experiential disability-awareness training

5:30 to 7 p.m., 340 Moffitt Disability History: "Mining the Past, Exploring the Future," with Susanna Castillo-Robson, Admissions and Enrollment, and Susan Schweik, English

Tuesday, March 18
Noon to 1 p.m., 104A Career Center, 2111 Bancroft Way

Film Screening: Headstrong: Inside the Hidden World of Dyslexia and ADHD

4 to 7 p.m., 2040 Valley Life Sciences
Managing Disability in Graduate School: How do graduate students with disabilities get accommodations and services they need in school?

7 p.m., Cheney Hall Lounge, Unit 1, 2560 Durant Ave.
Hidden Disability Event: An in-depth look at the characteristics of hidden disabilities such as ADHD and schizophrenia, and their impact on students

Wednesday, March 19

Noon to 1 p.m., 126 Barrows

Film screening: Equilibrium

2 to 4 p.m., Blue Court, Recreational Sports Facility Fraternities' Wheelchair Basketball

3 to 5:30 p.m., 170 Barrows Employer Panel and Résumé Review: Employers from nonprofits, high-tech, government, education, and finance will discuss recruiting students with disabilities; a résumé-review session follows

5:30 to 7 p.m., Tilden Room, Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union
"The Intersection of Race and Disability," Kathy Martines, World Institute on Disability

Thursday, March 20
Noon to 1 p.m., 104A Career Center, 2111 Bancroft Way

Film screening: Whole: A Trinity of Being. A South African artist and filmmaker chronicles her life after being paralyzed by a stray bullet

3:30 to 4:30 p.m., 202 César Chávez Student Center
ACS Disability Sexuality Panel: "Are Cripples Screwed?" A panel discussion and question-and-answer session focused on disability and sexuality in life and society, hosted by Cal students

Friday, March 21

Noon to 1 p.m., 126 Barrows

Film screening: Abnormally Funny People

3 to 6 p.m., 2040 Valley Life Sciences
Community-Based Organization Panel: Disability Rights Advocates, Center for Independent Living, World Institute on Disability, and Center for Accessible Technology come together to present information about their organizations and to introduce other programs

For disability-accommodation requests and information, contact Danny Kodmur at 292-7670 (voice), 642-6376 (TTY), or dkodmur@berkeley.edu (for communication services); Jamie Wilson at 292-7671 (mobility services); or visit access.berkeley.edu. Please make your service request with as much advance notice as possible.

DSRN is designed to help its target population plug into peer-to-peer support. "A lot of people can't advocate for themselves," says Cullimore, a reference specialist in Doe Library, "because they're so debilitated by their illness or disability." On top of that, she says, "the emotional weight of dealing with the workers'-comp system and the workplace can be completely overwhelming."

She knows that process all too well. In 1989, after contracting pneumococcal meningitis, Cullimore lost hearing in her right ear as well as use of her vestibular system, which helps maintain balance. After a lengthy recovery she returned to work, requesting a headset so she wouldn't strain her neck while talking on the phone. Her manager refused her request, and after three years, Cullimore developed a repetitive-stress injury for which she still receives treatment.

Cullimore filed a workers' compensation claim. Her treatment was ineffective, she says, until she discovered an alternative therapy while getting help with migraines, an unrelated malady. She battled a lengthy workers'-comp appeals process before being approved for the treatment that relieves her pain.

Cullimore was among 45 people who attended DSRN's kickoff event last December, at which representatives from central campus Human Relations and University Health Services' Disability Management unit spoke about disability workplace accommodation. The program has since launched a website (dsrn.berkeley.edu) that features a message board on which staff can post questions, information, and personal stories anonymously - thus helping to meet one of DSRN's key objectives, which is to be accessible around the clock and diminish the isolation that staff members grappling with disabilities may feel.

The site will also serve as a resource clearinghouse for staff. "We feel the website is going to be the place where the heartbeat of our work happens," says Tim Landingham, who initiated DSRN with Derek Coates. Both men are well-acquainted with the challenges disabled students face on campus: Landingham is a coordinator for the Disabled Students' Residence Program, and Coates is a disability-resolution officer with Academic Compliance and Disability Standards. Their project received seed funding for 2007-08 from the Berkeley Initiative for Leadership on Diversity. (For a Berkeleyan account of BILD's first-year funding decisions, visit newscenter.berkeley.edu/goto/BILD07).

"If you're sitting out there and you realize you need an accommodation, you're kind of starting from ground zero," says Landingham. "Supervisors ask, 'How am I going to pay for this?' You end up with a lot of resistance just trying to have a conversation. We want to help people help each other so the accommodation is gained without a lot of red tape and headache and strife," he says.

Coates points out that Berkeley supervisors whose employees are seeking accommodation for a disability can tap into various campus resources: Employee Relations, Disability Management at University Health Services, and classes taught by Fran Sticha, workers' compensation and vocational rehabilitation specialist, through the Interactive Course Enrollment System (ICE).

"Who does the disabled staff person call?" asks Coates. "It's a little-known fact that they could do some hypothetical work with Fran Sticha before they actually make the request for accommodations, but there isn't really anybody around who can tell them what the landscape looks like."

Picturing disability

How many Berkeley staff have disabilities? Coates says there's no way to determine the exact number among the nearly 12,000 Berkeley full- and part-time staff, although the 2000 U.S. census found that 20 percent of Californians between the ages of 21 to 64 have a disability.

"The only way to know is if [disabled staff] all disclosed, which they're not going to do, or if you keep records on how many file complaints," says Coates. Many staff have hidden disabilities, he notes, and they may not want to go public for fear that co-workers may view their accommodations as unwarranted special treatment. "There's a reason why they don't want to come out, so to speak," says Coates, who has come to know about such disputes in his job resolving complaints about alleged discrimination based on disability.

Reluctance to draw attention to oneself may be one reason for keeping a disability secret, but so too might be a lack of awareness that a disability may merit workplace accommodations. For instance, a diabetic requiring insulin injections might need to rest before or after lunch to help maintain her blood-sugar level. If the employee works in a cubicle or other public area, he would need to request access to a private resting area from a supervisor.

The conversation about workplace accommodations that takes place between an employee and her supervisor has a legal name - the interactive process. Elaborate steps are in place to determine whether a person is eligible for an accommodation, says Coates. In the state of California, a disability is defined as a circumstance that affects a major life activity, such as walking, standing, or sitting.

Once it's determined that a person has a disability (as designated by the Americans With Disabilities Act), the next step involves ascertaining whether he or she is entitled to a workplace accommodation. For example, a legally blind employee was granted a flexible schedule so that he may leave work in the fall while there's still daylight. "With my eye disease, I can't see very well in the dark due to night blindness," he explains.

A knowledgeable, supportive supervisor can make a world of difference for staff negotiating workplace accommodations, says Coates. "It's really frustrating when a supervisor doesn't see the reasons" for assisting an employee who has requested accomodations. A receptive supervisor will be able to see the situation as an opportunity. "If they're more open to the [accommodation] process without immediately wanting to shut it down or marginalize it, the employee might have a good experience and teach [his co-workers] about disability, says Coates.

Helping people navigate the accommodation process is critical, says Landingham. "We've heard stories where the process has shut a person down so that they don't want to participate anymore," he says. Such an outcome not only affects that staffer but signals a loss for the campus. "We feel that if we can help people handle these accommodations and they can be empowered, we're going to have a workforce that's more dedicated because we've been inclusive," says Landingham. The Disabled Staff Resource Network "is about a belief that people helping each other through these problems will serve the greater good. That's what this is really all about."

For information, call Derek Coates at 642-2795 or Tim Landingham at 642-8765.

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