Environmental Factor, August 2005, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Disability Advocacy Sub-Committee Formed
By Blondell Peterson
The Disability Advocacy Subcommittee, a new addition to the NIEHS Diversity Council, was established to monitor concerns and improve the working conditions for employees with disabilities. The subcommittee works in conjunction with the Disability Awareness Committee, which plans activities for Disability Awareness Month in October.
According to Gerard Roman, a diversity consultant with the NIH Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management, NIEHS Disability Awareness Committee members change annually as Diversity Council members change. By contrast, Disability Advocacy Subcommittee members can serve as long as they desire. Membership to the disability subcommittee is open to any NIEHS employee interested in improving the work environment for people with disabilities.
The new committee is the brainchild of Clyde Hasty, a safety and occupational health specialist with the Health and Safety Branch. He made a presentation at NIEHS last October on safety and disability.
"While doing research for the presentation, I began to realize that it would be a good idea if we had a standing committee that would have an interest in disability issues," he said. "I was starting to find issues out there. I thought it would be nice to have a committee that would have some input into the issues that confront people with disabilities, such as accessibility and evacuation concerns."
The mission for the 16-member subcommittee is still being formulated. Alicia Moore, a biologist with the Environmental Toxicology Program, chairs the subcommittee. Ad-hoc members include Roman, Hasty and Carol Bennett, project officer for accessibility modifications. Bennett is an engineering technician with the Facilities Engineering Branch.
Roman, who worked with the Diversity Council and the Disability Awareness Committee since 2002, said there was tremendous interest from many employees in how to improve the work environment for people with disabilities. "This led to the planning of some major projects such as repaving of parking areas, relocation of parking spaces to provide greater accessibility, and the identification of accessibility barriers such as entrance doors to the buildings and the fitness center," he said.
Bennett said she made a recommendation two years ago to get someone from the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to evaluate NIEHS facilities. The NCDVR provided an engineer at no cost to the Institute. The engineer, who generated a report on accessibility, will return in August to assess the inside of the NIEHS buildings.
According to Bennett, several recommended modifications that were completed include:
- Automatic door opener installed between the E-F Module connector
- Accessible parking spaces moved closer to the front entrance at Bldg. 101 and management spaces moved to the other side of the parking lot
- A doorbell installed at the entrance door of Bldg. 102 closest to the accessible parking spaces
- Pull pressure adjusted on various doors throughout the Institute to ensure that they are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Other projects completed by the FEB that addressed accessibility issues include:
- Locker rooms renovated to make them ADA accessible
- Automatic door opener installed at the EEO entrance
- Automatic door opener installed at the women's restroom in B Module on the first floor of Bldg. 101
- Automatic door opener installed at the men's restroom in B module on the first floor of Bldg. 101
- Modifications to various restrooms around the Institute to make them more accessible.
Projects in the planning stage are:
- Install automatic door operators at the Library and the Fitness Center
- Install railings by the exterior walkway and replace the tile with concrete at the E-F connector.
- Renovate the health unit to make it more accessible.
In addition to serving as ad hoc members of the disability committees, Bennett said she and Hasty attend the annual Assisted Technology Expo in Raleigh to look at new technologies and see if there is anything that they can incorporate at NIEHS.
Employees who are interested in joining the subcommittee or who would like to relay disability concerns can contact the OEODM at 541-2475 or e-mail Virginia Ivanoff at Ivanoff@niehs.nih.gov.