Creating a culture of inclusion

Illustration by Elisabeth Schettle

By Andrea Cilliers 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was a monumental step in recognizing and protecting a segment of citizens whose civil rights had been disregarded and discounted. Despite various social movements over the last one hundred years, it took the latter half of the 20th century to see significant signs of progress for people with disabilities, who were often marginalized from the broader conversation on civil rights. The celebration of the 30th anniversary of the ADA is a powerful reminder for the need to continue to include disability in the conversation of diversity and inclusion.

The Department of State seeks to deepen its workforces’ understanding of diversity by creating space for the spectrum of employees with disabilities. From non-obvious disabilities such as autoimmune disorders, to physical disabilities such as missing limbs and vision loss, and psychiatric impairments such as depression or anxiety, to developmental disabilities such as autism, the disabled community is truly diverse. Despite the differences in people’s personal experiences, there are shared experiences in navigating the Department’s unique and challenging work environments to overcome attitudinal and institutional barriers. There is a community formed around these shared experiences, exemplified in employee affinity groups—sponsored by the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR)—who believe that people do not have to understand exactly what others experience in order to understand how they can support one another. 

This is the essence of a culture of inclusion. It starts and ends with employees at all levels considering others, especially those not typically considered, ensuring accessibility of information and opportunities for everyone. The passing of the ADA was a commitment to the inclusion of individuals who deserve to be included. Let us celebrate the milestones and achievements of this great legislation and carry out the Department’s commitment to its mission around the world. 

For more information about employee affinity groups, contact S/OCR’s Diversity Management and Outreach Team. Department-offered training is also available for employees on the Foreign Service Institute’s training website, including: PT107 EEO/Diversity Awareness for Managers and Supervisors; PT144 Mitigating Unconscious Bias; and PA447 Disability and Reasonable Accommodation.    

Andrea Cilliers is acting chief for Diversity Management and Outreach in the Office of Civil Rights.