cover of supporting people of color in employment resource

Supporting People of Color in Employment

The University of Kentucky Human Development Institute seeks to cultivate a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) with disability as its main focus. In service to our mission and employment priority area, a resource titled Supporting People of Color (POC) in Employment, authored by Sincere Holmes, Stuart Rumrill, Stefani Whaley, and Nicholas L. Wright is available to hiring officials and job seekers. This resource explains the additional obstacles, challenges, and effects that POC may face in the workplace and in hiring due to systemic racism and unconscious biases, as well as open prejudice, and breaks down ways these problems can be addressed. “It aims to provide essential information and support to help POC thrive in their careers and create a more inclusive and equitable career landscape,” Wright said.

 While the team creating the article did significant research, they also found the creation of this resource a rather personal process. “It made me think about past experiences in different realms of employment,” Holmes said.

Though HDI’s primary focus is disability, equity and inclusion for all people are parts of its culture, and the members of the team that constructed this resource indicated that breaking down barriers is important to that work – and those barriers don’t need to be limited just to discussions around disability.

HDI’s goal is support,” Whaley said. “In thinking about this particular project, support through research and representation…As we are researching, who else is at the table? I think that is at the heart of HDI.” The article can be found here:

Erin Fitzgerald, a staff member of HDI is wearing a blue flannel and holding a washboard to make music. they are on a blue background with HDI's logo in the top left.

“All people offer perspective that is valuable to the rest of the world.” HDI Staff Erin Fitzgerald speaks on their experience with Neurodiversity and mental health

The following article discusses suicide, which some readers may find distressing. 

Erin Fitzgerald could always see the signs that she was different growing up – the tools to recognize how simply didn’t exist yet.  

“I grew up in an era where mental health was talked about very differently from how it is talked about today. There are some similarities and holdovers, but a lot of differences too,” Fitzgerald, who also identifies as queer and uses she/they pronouns, said. “In the 70s and 80s, I do not remember any conversation around mental health or counseling that did not feel totally pathologized. I do not remember myself or anyone else getting referred to talk with someone or getting assessed for something based on how we were doing or how we were feeling inside. I would only hear about mental health if someone were seen as causing a problem for other people, or seen as a problem themselves.”  

Fitzgerald also grew up in a household with a parent who was diagnosed with a severe mental illness, who did not have the same options for support and resources that exist today. “It makes me sad to think about this, because my dad struggled quite a bit and had a hard time finding the right kind of support,” she shared. “He ultimately died by suicide, which is an all-too-common scenario when people do not have the support that they need to address their mental health issues. I cannot help but wonder if he were living in a different time, and if he could have found the kind of support that exists now, how things might have gone differently.”  

Fitzgerald, who works with HDI as the CTP Coordinator with HDI’s Supported Higher Education Partnership, has had her own journey with mental health. She has had family that struggled, has worked as a support provider, and has sought support from the system as well. She was given multiple diagnoses before finally being assessed for autism and sensory processing disorder as an adult.  

“It wasn’t until some years later that I even heard the term ‘Neurodiversity,’” Fitzgerald said. “That really clicked some things in place for me. It was a turning point for me to think about the way I was wired as being a neurotype and an identity, and not a problem to be solved or a thing to be fixed.”  

For Fitzgerald, this was a revelation – and a total reversal of how anything related to mental health was treated in the past.  

But the signs were always there, and looking back, Fitzgerald sees them clearly – both in how it’s affected her view of the world at large, and how it’s affected her view of something deeply important to her – art.  

“It is interesting – I think that way my brain is wired has always affected my view on the world as well as my art. But I have not always been in good touch with what that wiring was,” Fitzgerald said. “So only in recent years do I feel that I am able to understand the degree to which that affects my view of the world, and how that is portrayed in art.”  

comic from spectrum with four squares. the top left has a person wearing a hospital gown holding their head with text reading, "Sometimes it takes a crash..." the next square show a person laying face down with text that says, “…to find a landing…” the next shows that person crouching on the ground with one foot on the floor, with text that says “…to find your footing…” the final square shows that person wearing a grey t-shirt and pants standing an a podium with a rainbow flag behind them with text reading, “…find your place.”

That’s a big part of how Fitzgerald relates to the world. Art, she said, is an essential part of her life.  

“When it comes down to it, art is the primary way that I process information and emotions. This has always been true, and not just with visual art. Music, writing, theater, any kind of creative expression – it all helps me to process things,” Fitzgerald said. “Consuming it, creating it, engaging with it, talking about it – all of these actions are extremely important to me. I can’t imagine life without being swirled up in the arts on a regular basis.”  

Today, Fitzgerald creates a cartoon called SPECTRUM that explores the multiple aspects of her journey and identity. She started the project after attending a class with Lynda Barry – somewhat accidentally, she noted.  

“I did not go there to learn cartooning specifically, but after the workshop I started drawing cartoons every day. I did not set out to draw a cartoon called SPECTRUM, or to cover specific topics such as Neurodivergence and Queerness. But that is what kept coming out on the page, so that is what I went with,” Fitzgerald said. “I have been drawing SPECTRUM cartoons ever since, and it has been a great tool for me to further process the world around me and to think more deeply about my interactions within it. It has also turned out to be a good tool for having conversations with other people around those subjects.”  

Cartoons like SPECTRUM are relevant to an emerging field known as Graphic Medicine, one that Fitzgerald says is still finding its identity. But it’s one she finds exciting for its diversity in application and accessibility. Graphic Medicine is, explained simply, the intersection between the realms of graphic arts (such as illustration and comics) and health and medicine. This can take many different forms, which is part of the appeal. It also does something that is central to a lot of work that Fitzgerald does – gives a voice to more people to share their experiences.  

“I was drawn to this field for many reasons,” Fitzgerald said. “The part of this field that is most appealing to me is the fact that engaging with and creating graphic works can increase understanding of topics such as overall health, medicine, mental health, identity, and community engagement. It can intersect and therefore help connect people and ideas from all different disciplines and perspectives.”  

Fitzgerald also notes that the principles of graphic medicine are in line with those of Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning in a few key ways – in giving people additional tools to communicate and understand concepts related to health and medicine, and in giving a voice to people receiving supports – allowing everyone the chance to learn together. In addition, graphic formats provide context and color to raw data, adding images and stories to the numbers.  

Fitzgerald is also working on a wordless graphic memoir called InQuest, which documents her perspective about the mental health system. She hopes the project will help increase understanding of that system from the perspective of people who have navigated it from the other side. “The message I find most important from that project is this: the perspective of a person experiencing a mental health crisis is valid and meaningful, and should not be dismissed,” she said. More information about that project can be found here

A spectrum comic that has someone not in frame ask, “So…can you tell me about your strengths?” A person that looks nervous responds, “Well I don’t mean to brag…but my amygdala is huge.”

Today, Fitzgerald works with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) as they attend college – something that has only recently become an option for many. That, Fitzgerald says, is because people have historically not included the voices of people with IDD in conversations about higher education.  

“I think this is partly because of that tendency in our society to separate people into categories based on what we are told they do or don’t know, or can or can’t do,” she said. “If we want to be truly inclusive, we need to see everyone else as a partner in this journey, and not only in a specific role of expert or learner. That is how we got here, so we need to expand our own perceptions as we continue to build the way forward.”  

In general, that is a uniting factor in a lot of what Fitzgerald does – working to ensure that voices of all people are heard and valued in the process.  

“One of the main things I want people to understand about mental health and IDD is that all people offer perspective that is valuable to the rest of the world. In our society, we tend to put certain perspectives up on a pedestal as being more important, and putting other perspectives in a category as being less valued,” she said. “We tend to separate people into categories of those with expertise to share, and those who need that expertise. That is oversimplified and can be quite dangerous. It is important for us to recognize the value in all human perspective, and to stop pathologizing everything that is outside of the norm. I think we have come a long way in this, but we still have a long way to go.”  

Read Fitzgerald’s ongoing comic, SPECTRUM, here

staff spotlight photo of Calisa Fitzpatrick

Good communication makes the world go round! A staff spotlight on Calisa Fitzpatrick

Calisa Fitzpatrick thinks good communication makes the world go round.

For her, there is immense power in a team working together towards a common goal. And as a member of the Evaluations Team, a big part of her job is helping ensure that HDI is doing that in every way it can.

“We work with partners to help inform them about the impact their programs or services are making on the individuals they intend to serve and hopefully provide them with information to inform decision-making to improve those programs and services,” Fitzpatrick said. “We ask a lot of questions, have lots of conversations, and then come up with a plan to evaluate all the things they’re doing.”

She didn’t set out to be involved in evaluations, but she fell into it, as she puts it. Fitzpatrick Holds a master’s in Health Administration and a psychology undergraduate and directed an outpatient program for adolescents at a behavioral health hospital. Her work has always had a strong focus on helping young people address their own challenges with mental health and reducing stigma around receiving services. What she does now still serves the same mission, but looks at it from a different angle.

Her story is not a unique one. Many from the evaluations team didn’t start there, and Fitzpatrick sees that as a boon to the team.

“We bring a lot of diverse perspectives to our work, experiences from the healthcare world, mental health services, education, or research-based activities,” she said.

Fitzpatrick’s path was a strange one. She hadn’t been at HDI for more than two months before COVID-19 changed everything and had to effectively relearn her new job after having barely learned it on the first place. This is where her teamwork proved incredibly beneficial.

“We have a lot of camaraderie on the unit. We get a lot of support from each other,” she said. “Coworkers just understood where we all were, and they were willing to work through that together.”

Likewise, getting to know those colleagues – both directly in evaluations and in other partnerships.

“I enjoy the relationships that are being built. That sharing of knowledge has been super important,” she said. “I appreciate the conversations with grant partners like the Kentucky Department of Education, the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. There’s so many people that are really dedicated to their work, so getting to know them and how they think about the work they do and seeing that passion for it has been inspiring.”

As someone who values teamwork so much, it comes as no surprise that Fitzpatrick loves sports too. She’s an avid runner and a rookie pickleball player with a desire to compete.

But it’s not just the teamwork that she values, as you can find her taking a nice run, or

She wants to get her heart going and she likes to challenge herself to go higher. She’s already run several marathons. Now, she’s considering running another.

“It takes a lot of discipline to get out there and constantly do it,” she said. “When something is demanding mentally or physically, that’s something I like. It might sound like ‘Oh, why would anyone want to do that,’ but I like being pushed.”

Ultimately though, a lot of her life comes down to healthy communications, healthy relationships, and healthy collaboration.

“That’s so imperative to the work that we do,” she said. “My faith guides me to do to others as you would have them do to you. I think that’s where a lot of teamwork and collaboration stems from…I also think I can learn from others. I don’t know it all, so I value that collaboration.”

Staff Spotlight Richelle Gabbard

People make her happy! A staff spotlight on Richelle Gabbard

Richelle Gabbard calls herself a people person.

She considers herself an extravert. She loves to learn about people, and loves to help them solve their problems. And as a part of HDI’s HR team, those are good traits to have.

“When I’m around people and I get to talk to people and get to know them personally outside of their position…I get to know them for them,” she said. “For me, that’s important. I love that I get to do that.”

Gabbard is HDI’s Human Resources Payroll Assistant. That means that she helps ensure that everyone receives their paychecks in a timely and orderly manner. But that’s far from all she does.

“I am the go-to person for STEPS positions, temporary positions, student positions,” Gabbard said. “Any type of HR question, you can come to me. Any payroll question, you can come to me…I’m basically the person to go to other than Jessica [Whiting, HR Manager].”

Gabbard started working with UK through a STEPS position, which refers to a type of temporary position filled through the university’s staffing agency. Prior to that, she’d worked in management, a very different place from where she ended up. At the time, she’d been off work for eight months following the birth of her son.

“I wanted to find something that was more suited to his schedule. I wanted to not work weekends. That was a big thing for me,” Gabbard said. “I started shopping around on the jobs posting at UK. I ended up landing a position with STEPS.”

She started working in an accounting setting in the administrative team, starting part time at 10 hours a week. She steadily graduated to 20 hours a week, but then COVID hit.

“My position completely changed because I was doing filing. Obviously you can’t do filing from home,” she said. “That’s when Jessica started changing things…She became my supervisor and my position has done nothing but grow since then.”

Gabbard has liked the experience she’s had working at HDI. She feels like it’s a good, supportive workplace where people respect one another.

“I feel like we’re all connected. Nobody really feels higher than anybody else,” she said. “I feel like I can have a conversation with anyone here…I don’t feel like I’m a number.”

She also feels like HDI is a diverse workplace – something that is to its advantage.

“We have our own projects and our own needs, but I feel like it’s all one unit,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re here for one mission.”

At home, Gabbard is working on finding balance in her life. With her son headed to preschool, she finds herself with a lot more free time and is using that time to discover new hobbies, find a balance in her life, let herself be introspective, and spend more time with her friends. And that’s a good life for her.

“I’m a minimalistic person. I don’t need a lot to make me happy. I definitely don’t think financial success is a motivating factor,” Gabbard said. “I would rather love what I do and not be a billionaire than have all the money in the world and be unhappy.”  

Two women in a room sitting at a table

Community Health Workers make connections across Kentucky

Community Health Workers (CHWs) are front-line workers that serve as the bridge between our communities and the healthcare system. CHWs work across our state to achieve their role as connectors. With the goal of increasing the capacity of CHWs to support Kentuckians with disabilities, the Human Development Institute (HDI) has partnered with the Kentucky Office of Community Health Workers (KOCHW) to provide a series of trainings and interactive workshops on Universal Design (UD).*

 The statewide trainings were the result of lessons learned from previously hosted listening sessions. Insight from CHWs helped identify areas of need and allowed HDI to develop CHW-focused training on various disability and health topics. Training includes Disability 101, Disability and Health Resources, UD in Community Health Work, and Guardianship and Supported Decision-Making. HDI created the regional workshops to reinforce the inclusive principles of UD and empower CHWs to implement their learned inclusion strategies.

The workshops are hosted with KYOCHW’s regional meetings and engage CHWs to apply UD strategies to health messages, programming, and environments. The universally designed workshops feature numerous interactive activities focused on engaging participants to apply strategies to maximize accessibility and inclusion.

Workshop activities include:  

  • Jeopardy: Review content from previous trainings with a trivia styled game.
  • Role-play: Use supported decision-making to act out different community scenarios.
  • UD Redesign: Small groups work together to apply UD strategies to provide examples of inaccessible materials.
  • Social Media: After learning about the importance of UD and accessibility on social media, write alt text and image descriptions.
  • Adapted Physical Activity: Identify ways to modify exercises to be inclusive of the different ways people move their bodies.
  • Kitchen Equipment Demo: Try out different adaptive kitchen equipment that help empower individuals to prepare their own healthy food.

Strategically developed to promote the real-world application of UD by CHWs, the interactive experience from the workshops has been met with enthusiasm from KYOCHW and CHWs across the state. One participant noted, “I learned a lot about how to present information in different ways so that everyone is able to understand and have access.”  Many attendees have affirmed they will use UD to better communicate with their clients. One participant said they will share the experience from the workshop with their staff and encourage “them to follow this structure for work they are doing with clients.”

The four workshops have hosted over 120 CHWs from across the state.  Two workshops were held in western Kentucky at Kenlake State Resort Park and Barren River State Resort Park. The central regional meeting, which included CHWs from Lexington, Louisville, Frankfort, and beyond, was hosted at the Kentucky Historical Society. HDI staff joined KYOCHW in eastern Kentucky on August 24th (Pine Mountain) and will meet again for the final regional meeting on November 2nd (Jenny Wiley). If you are interested in attending a workshop, please contact the Kentucky Office of Community Health Workers.

* UD is Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning.