NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. — For Angela Gaillot, life looks like a foggy morning filled with shadows.
Gaillot, an office automation clerk who has worked at NAVAIR since 2009, is almost completely blind. She and three other individuals with disabilities spoke as part of an “Abilities at NAVAIR” panel discussion held here April 5.
“I don’t see myself as disabled,” she said. “I see myself as a person with many abilities.”
Other panelists echoed Gaillot’s sentiments.
Rodney Flowers, who has a spinal cord injury and used a wheelchair for 18 years, said, “We’re no different than anyone else; treat me like a human being — that’s all I ask.”
Flowers, who now walks with assistance from forearm crutches, said he has struggled sometimes with being ignored as a leader in his contracting field.
“People didn’t accept taking direction from an individual with a disability,” Flowers said. “They didn’t see me as a leader but someone less than.”
Liz Strandberg, who is legally blind, advised employees not to assume individuals with disabilities need help and to remember all NAVAIR employees have one thing in common.
“We all have a brain — that’s what got us in the door at NAVAIR,” Strandberg, who has worked at NAVAIR for nearly 19 years, said.
Each panelist said having supportive supervisors and co-workers has made a big difference in their careers.
Eric Kelly, who has worked for NAVAIR for 26 years and uses a wheelchair, said, “Things have changed, over time, for the better when it comes to accessibility,” noting improvements to buildings that have made it easier for him to maneuver.
Strandberg, who cannot drive, cited working together with the base and the Equal Employment Office reasonable accommodations coordinator to resume base transportation for individuals with disabilities in 2015 after the base taxi service was cut in 2013.
“NAVAIR has been a support to me and allowed me to flourish,” Flowers, who has worked at NAVAIR for 17 years, said. “My story is a success story.”
All four panelists are members of NAVAIR’s Individuals with Disabilities Advisory Team, which sponsored this event. The team supports the recruitment, retention, professional development and advancement of individuals with disabilities, wounded warriors and individuals with targeted disabilities. Currently, more than 4,000 individuals with disabilities work at NAVAIR nationwide.
The event also included remarks from one of the team’s executive champions, William Buchanan, and Sonny Fann, a Vietnam War veteran from the Wounded Warrior Program.
“This is about diversity of thought — getting different thoughts and different backgrounds,” Buchanan said. “It’s a different approach to problem-solving. We want to help change the conversation and get it more focused on their abilities, not their disabilities.”
Find out more about NAVAIR’s individuals with disabilities programs.