October Awareness Month: Celebrating Differences & Disabilities

October 2020

As Understood continues towards its mission of shaping the world for difference, the month of October included several important observances to help forward that. This included National Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, ADHD Awareness Month, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Understood also continued to recognize this year’s 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in October. 

In light of these recognitions, the Understood team highlighted individuals’ stories both inside and outside of the organization. By empowering the voices of those with differences and disabilities, Understood demonstrated how embracing differences as strengths can help everyone thrive. 

Understood senior manager Natalie Tamburello, who is dyslexic, shared her journey from being labeled “uneducable” in elementary school to graduating college with honors and magna cum laude. She emphasized how her experience would have been different if her dyslexia would have been recognized as an asset instead of a hurdle. 

“I wish learning and thinking differently wasn’t viewed as a barrier to success, but as an opportunity for everyone to reimagine the ladders to success,” wrote Tamburello.  

At a gathering with Understood employees, disability and race consultant and Understood expert Keri Gray proposed reframing the ways in which we discuss disabilities. In an open dialogue about race and visible and invisible disabilities in the workplace, Gray shared her experience as a Black woman with disabilities in advancing intersectional inclusion in the workplace.

“Things changed for me when I was introduced to the disability community, I saw the world did not have to see me as the summation of my medical conditions,” she stated. “And as I got deeper in the workplace, I found it necessary that we were developing spaces that are inclusive of my Blackness, my womanhood, and my disabilities.”  

Throughout her career, Gray’s impactful work with young people with disabilities, including those who learn and think differently, has led her to advocate for a future where workplaces allow people to bring their full selves to work. She noted that among persons with a disability, Blacks have a higher unemployment rate (11.8 percent) than Hispanics (8.6 percent), Asians (6.7 percent), and Whites (6.6 percent). 

Claire Odom and Nora Genster, two of Understood’s disability inclusion specialists, explored how accommodations can help organizations address this problem. With so many companies now operating fully remote, Odom and Genster emphasized the importance of accommodations in this new work environment and how employers should avoid assuming that new “perks” such as flex time comprehensively support employees.

They also shared their own personal experiences with accommodations processes, what supports have and haven’t been working while working from home, and why employers should trust employees with knowing what they need to thrive at work. 

While October has come to a close, Understood will continue to highlight individuals’ experiences to encourage others to embrace differences so that we can thrive together. 


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