Carnegie Mellon University

Handicap accessible door button on marble wall

October 07, 2020

Disability Is Diversity

Often when we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, we list the common groups: race, ethnicity, gender and sex. Certainly, all of these groups deserve equity and inclusion, and Chief Human Resources Officer Michelle Piekutowski highlights many of the Office of Human Resources' (OHR’s) efforts regarding diversity, equity and inclusion in her introduction to the October HR Update newsletter. Yet there is one group frequently left off the list: those with disabilities. People with disabilities are one of the largest minority groups in the United States. According to the Census on Disability Status, approximately 20% of Americans have one or more diagnosed psychological or physical disabilities, and 49.7 million people have some type of long lasting condition or permanent disability. As we observe National Disability Employment Awareness Month this October, we are reminded that people with disabilities contribute considerably to the U.S. economy. Their skills, talents and knowledge contribute to the strength and diversity of all companies.

Given how interwoven people with disabilities are in the composition of our nation, the exclusion of disability within the discussion of diversity is a problem. Building a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce will not be truly attained without the inclusion of employees with disabilities. Companies must value and appreciate each employee for their individual differences and experiences allowing them to benefit from their unique and diverse perspectives and build a culture that does not exclude disability from the discourse of diversity.

Carnegie Mellon University’s OHR – Disability Services, led by La Dawn Robinson, Manager of Equal Opportunity Services, continuously strives to foster a welcoming culture and climate that is open to the knowledge, ability and talents of all, including employees with disabilities. To continue our good-faith and meaningful efforts to recruit and retain qualified employees with disabilities, and in support of the university’s commitment to “work together to build and sustain an inclusive culture,”* Disability Services provides several resources:

  • Option to Self-Identify Disability Status, which is an effective method to measure the recruitment and retention of employees with disabilities. While the choice to self-identify as an employee with a disability is entirely voluntary, doing so assists the university by providing a more accurate picture of the diversity represented by our employee population, and enables us to allocate resources to maintain an accessible, inclusive workplace.
  • The Interactive Process, which is a conversation between an employee who has requested a reasonable accommodation and Disability Services. Together, the employee and Disability Services discuss what can be done to reasonably accommodate the employee to perform the essential functions of their job successfully.
  • Emergency Preparedness Planning, which is an effective emergency plan for employees with disabilities.
  • Orientation and Mobility Training, which assists individuals with visual impairments to travel safely, confidently and independently in their environment.

If you would like to discuss any of these resources, or you are a supervisor who would like to learn more about how to support an employee with a disability, please contact Disability Services at

*Confronting Racism and Promoting Equity and Inclusion, July 2, 2020