Each year, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) increases awareness and celebrates the many contributions of the nation's employees with disabilities. FEMA embraces the 2023 theme, "Advancing Equity and Access," which underscores the essential role of individuals with disabilities in fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce.
FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination (ODIC) helps guide the agency’s inclusive approach to emergency management. ODIC supports individuals with disabilities and others requiring special access or functional needs during all disaster stages. FEMA’s National Response Framework, the guiding incident management framework that helps partners provide a unified national response to disasters and emergencies, focuses on individual needs and accommodations, ensuring effective, tailored support and accessibility for all.
ODIC’s core objective is shortening the disaster cycle for every person who achieves function and independence through assistive aids and supports. This includes people who use assistive devices or medically required equipment (e.g., hearing aids, adapted vehicles, personal assistance services for in-home care) as well as those who require constant aid and attendance of another person for daily living and are power-dependent (e.g., kidney dialysis, oxygen, ventilator).
ODIC could not perform its mission without the expertise and partnership of the agency’s Office of Equal Rights (OER). OER supports employees with disabilities, identifies and addresses the needs of disaster survivors with disabilities, and ensures the representation of persons with disabilities in our policies and programs in compliance with civil rights and disability laws, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
"Disability integration can only happen once accountability is not just acknowledged but also demonstrated in accordance with the law. I am proud of the complementary work that ODIC and OER do together to meet the agency's equity goals, with equity being the outcome we seek," said ODIC Director and FEMA Disability Coordinator Sherman Gillums Jr. "OER Director Leslie Saucedo and I are unified around the aim of fostering a time when equity will be self-evident before and during every disaster, at all levels, through every phase of the overlapping 'whole of government' and 'whole of community' mission to save lives and put survivors on a faster path to recovery."
In 2023, Gillums released a vision to the FEMA workforce for the disability integration mission that focuses on averting harm, adapting to uncertainty, and reducing the disaster cycle for all people, especially those who have historically lived with the consequences the longest.
Gillums travels to as many disaster operations as possible to work onsite with teams and partners to identify and address accessibility issues.
"My role as the disability coordinator for FEMA is less about my title and more about my presence at the table as an ambassador for people who locate their independence through systems and environments that recognize how differently people carry out everyday functions," Gillums said. "Disability integration in the work we do at FEMA is really about setting an example for how we can best acknowledge people who have historically been pushed to society's margins. This becomes especially critical during times of crisis when our collective humanity needs to hit its apex to ensure we never get numb to human suffering."
One of FEMA’s goals is to integrate equity as a foundation of its culture, which includes a more diverse workforce. At the core of this goal is FEMA's disability integration team, which consists of subject matter experts, many of whom have their own lived experiences. At FEMA headquarters and regional offices, these individuals work alongside trained civil rights and accessibility experts in the field to better serve and identify obstacles before they become challenges.
"NDEAM is not just a time to increase awareness about the needs of people in the workforce who identify as disabled," Gillums said. "It is also a time for us to collectively ask ourselves, 'Did we get better since last year?' What 'getting better' means is often determined by whether your colleagues with disabilities feel they truly belong or just fit in, which is an aspect of awareness that needs to happen 365 days a year."
We are proud of the more than 2,700 FEMA employees with disabilities who help FEMA accomplish its mission. To support ODIC’s mission and to learn more, visit Office of Disability Integration and Coordination | FEMA.gov and People with Disabilities | Ready.gov.
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