For Vanessa Niño-Tapia, a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District, October’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month serves as a powerful reminder of how far she has come as a person, an engineer and an employee.
In 2020, Niño-Tapia was awarded the Sacramento District’s prestigious Hattie Peterson Inspiration Award in recognition of her ongoing volunteer work. It’s an award she was nominated for and selected to receive by her peers. “Disability is not a bad word,” Niño-Tapia shared, “It’s an entire community that is diverse – a community I am proud to be a member of.”
Niño-Tapia lives with bipolar 1 disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to her work at USACE, she also participates in the “Mental Illness: It’s Not Always What You Think” Project and is a member of the Stop Stigma Sacramento Speaker’s Bureau.
Niño-Tapia began working with USACE in 2013, but she was fearful that if her mental illness was ever disclosed, she could be fired. Despite excelling in the district’s recent graduates’ program, Niño-Tapia said she began struggling when medication no longer proved effective at keeping the darkness away. Fortunately, her supervisor recognized something was amiss and reached out. After breaking down and naming her illness as bipolar 1 disorder and PTSD, Niño-Tapia was shocked when her supervisor replied, “Bipolar disorder? We have supervisors who have that.”
Concerns Niño-Tapia had about potential employer discrimination, and many other Americans with disabilities continue to have, is the reason NDEAM was instituted 76 years ago. Acknowledging their many and varied contributions to the nation’s workplace is reinforced in NDEAM’s 2021 theme “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion.” It serves as a reminder that while our nation is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, it will require the contributions of all to make that recovery complete.
Linda Brown, Sacramento District supervisory EEO specialist, shared her thoughts on the annual month-long observance. “Diversity and inclusion fuels innovation and builds the collaborations that release the power of new ideas. It is our unique traits or differences, visible and invisible, which foster creativity when our workplaces truly engage and embrace diversity and inclusion.” She added, “It is every employee’s dream to arrive at work daily to contribute their best to the mission and priorities of the organization in a safe, welcoming, respectful and supportive work environment where they can be authentically themselves.”
Brown continued, “During this month, we celebrate America’s workers with disabilities, both past and present and emphasize the importance of inclusive policies and practices to ensure that all Americans who want to work can work and have access to services and supports to enable them to do so. With continued advances in such supports, including accessible technology, it is easier than ever before to hire people with disabilities in high demand jobs. Disability is not inability.”
Every October USACE is proud to observe NDEAM and confirm its commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. SPK celebrates the ingenuity, problem solving and ability to adapt that people with disabilities bring to our workplace and strives to create a work environment where all employees feel truly welcome to be their authentic selves.
You can read more about Niño-Tapia’s story at https://www.stopstigmasacramento.org/stories/vanessa-nino-tapia/ as well as by visiting the Sacramento Native American Health Center’s “It’s OK To Not Be OK” suicide prevention campaign at https://www.snahc.org/2021/06/22/personal-testimony-for-suicide-prevention/.
To learn more about how to participate in National Disability Employment Awareness Month and ways to promote its messages, visit www.dol.gov/NDEAM.