Honoring National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2023

NDEAM 2023 official poster featuring field of red, gray, teal, blue and yellow and words “Advancing Access & Equity,"

CUNY SPS Marks Month with Events and New Faculty Spotlight

In recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) 2023, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) is pleased to host several events that will highlight disability employment issues and explore this year’s theme of “Advancing Access and Equity.”

First, the CUNY SPS student group Disability and Access Coalition (DAC) will offer a workshop aimed at supporting student employment goals:

  • Networking and Building a Professional Brand Online
  • When:  Friday, October 27
  • Where: Zoom
  • Time:  4:00 to 5:00 PM

Access U will host a 90-minute, virtual workshop for students with disabilities to explore how online networking and personal brand-building can assist with job searches and professional development. The workshop will cover a number of topics including tips for making a good first impression, networking advice, informational interviews, personal branding and social media use, with a specific focus on LinkedIn.

Based in St Louis, Missouri, Access U’s mission is to empower college students with disabilities to launch their careers and achieve their dreams for the future. All CUNY SPS students with disabilities are invited to attend.

Register here for the DAC workshop.

Additionally, the CUNY SPS disability studies program will host a conversation about workplace wellness and equity.

  • Disability Perspectives at Work: Challenges & Opportunities for Workplace Equity & Inclusion
  • When: Thursday, October 26
  • Where: Zoom
  • Time: 7:00-8:00 PM

This faculty-led roundtable will bring together thought leaders in the field of disability studies to discuss the broad question: How can disabled people and the field of disability studies inform and enrich the wider conversation about workplace equity and work-related quality of life?

This conversation aims to not only shed light on the challenges faced by disabled individuals in accessing and retaining meaningful employment opportunities, but to explore the transformative potential of disabled people and the field of disability studies to inform the wider conversation about workplace wellness and equity.

Participants will include several current and former CUNY SPS disability studies students working in the field: Reem Jaafar, Director of Research, Evaluation, & Program Support, Co-PI the Queens-STEM Academy; Jeanine Mcadam, Founder and Publisher, Heightsites.com; John Robinson, President and CEO, Our Ability INC; as well as Charnessa Warren, Director of Student Disability Services and Assistive Technology Specialist at the University of Chicago.

This panel will be moderated by Dr. Brian Le Lay, assistant professor in the disability studies program, and Dr. Andrew Marcum, academic director of the disability studies program.

Visit here to learn more and register for the event.

CUNY SPS Welcomes New Disability Studies Faculty Member

This month’s NDEAM faculty conversation will mark the first public presentation by Dr. Brian Le Lay, the latest full-time faculty member to join CUNY SPS’ groundbreaking disability studies programs. In this spotlight, he shares his background and interests and how this will inform his new role. 

Dr. Le Lay considers himself a “forever student” whose passion for his subject is deeply rooted in his own lived experience—and his commitment to changing the systems that limit the potential (and the power) of disabled people.

Born with a rare genetic condition known as ocular albinism, Dr. Le Lay experiences low vision. As a young person, however, he had little insight into his visual differences. He explained, “My eye doctors, teachers, and family didn't know how to help me succeed academically or even that I needed help.” For many years, his disability remained hidden even from himself, and for a time limited his academic development and achievement. 

While studying for a doctorate in rhetoric and technical communication, however, Dr. Le Lay “bumped into disability studies.” For the first time, he found a constructive way to think about his own experience—and how to connect that experience to larger social structures. He noted, “We move within systems that define who is ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal.’ These systems define who is and is not disabled and deprive caregivers, professionals, and organizations of the knowledge and resources needed support people with nonnormative bodies and minds.”

Through his encounters with disability studies, Dr. Le Lay began to understand the need “to build systems that enable all of us to address the radical diversity of bodies and minds.” This new understanding led to a shift in focus. He began to see that, through his research and teaching, he could “bring together my interest in disability studies, my lived and embodied experience of low vision, and my expertise as a technical communication scholar.”

Dr. Le Lay came to CUNY SPS because, as he puts it, “I care about impact. I’m here to support students in translating awareness into action.” His primary goal as a disability scholar is “to equip students with the skills that can help to build inclusive organizations” and to encourage student efforts in “coalition-building, systems thinking, and communication.” 

Currently, Dr. Le Lay teaches the undergraduate course, “Disability and Society,” as well as the master’s level course, “Assistive Technology in Higher Education.” In the latter, students learn about “a wide range of assistive technologies and universal design strategies,” as well as how to “embed that knowledge into professional development opportunities for faculty and staff, and how to advocate for structural changes within an organization.”  

These efforts represent just part of Dr. Le Lay’s ongoing journey as a teacher, researcher, and human being. As he explained, “If we acknowledge that [. . .] human ability is highly context-dependent, then it follows that there must be an infinite variety of ways that bodies and minds can be at odds with physical, social, and technological environments.” For this reason, the path for him has no end, or as he puts it, “At no point will we be able to say, ‘Okay, we're finally inclusive.’ No policy, checklist, algorithm, or set of standards and regulations can address that dynamic complexity.”

Instead, Dr. Le Lay puts forward a more complicated vision for his ongoing work as a teacher and a researcher, asking, “How can I participate in a career-long process where I learn to address the diversity of ways my students can show up?" As a member of one of the most open and inclusive higher education communities in the country, Dr. Le Lay looks forward to finding many opportunities at CUNY SPS to keep growing in understanding—and impact.

About Disability Studies at the CUNY School of Professional Studies

Disability Studies is an emerging academic field that explores disability from multiple perspectives, including the social sciences, humanities, science, and the law. CUNY SPS offers groundbreaking, fully accredited online degree and certificate programs within Disability Studies including the BA in Disability StudiesMA in Disability StudiesMS in Disability Services in Higher Education, Advanced Certificate in Disability Studies and Advanced Certificate in Disability Services in Higher Education.

About the CUNY School of Professional Studies

As New York's leading online school since 2006, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) offers the most online bachelor's and master's degree options at the City University of New York, and serves as the University's first undergraduate all-transfer college. With 26 degrees and numerous other non-degree and grant-funded workplace learning programs, CUNY SPS meets the needs of adults who wish to finish a bachelor's degree, progress from an associate's degree, earn a master's degree or certificate in a specialized field, and advance in the workplace or change careers. Consistently ranked highly by U.S. News & World Report for its online offerings, CUNY SPS has emerged as a nationwide leader in online education. The School's renowned and affordable online programs ensure that busy working adults may fulfill their educational goals on their own time and schedule.

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