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NAWCAD Lakehurst Disability Employment Awareness event highlights equal opportunity, access

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Joseph Zesski, program manager for the Northeast ADA Center (left), Kelly Boyd, access and functional needs planner for the NJ OEM (middle), and Michael Blatt, director of the Office for IWD in Ocean County (right), speak at the NAWCAD Lakehurst National Disability Employment Awareness Month event Oct. 10. (U.S. Navy photo by Sherry Jacob)

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Adriano Parga, NAWCAD Lakehurst Individuals with Disabilities Advisory Team co-lead, discusses the importance of inclusion in the workplace at the National Disability Employment Awareness Month event Oct. 10. (U.S. Navy photo by Sherry Jacob)

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – --

Providing equal opportunity and access were the topics of discussion during the National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) event Oct. 10 at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst.

The NAWCAD Lakehurst Individuals with Disabilities Advisory Team (IWDAT) and Equal Employment Opportunity, Diversity and Inclusion division hosted the event in recognition of NDEAM, which takes place every October.

“NDEAM is observed so that Americans can reaffirm commitment to ensuring equal opportunity for all citizens and  pay tribute to the accomplishments of men and women with disabilities who contributed, continue to contribute and wish to contribute to making the nation’s economy strong,” said Adriano Parga, IWDAT co-lead,  who introduced this year’s theme “The Right Talent, Right Now.”.

Kelly Boyd, access and functional needs planner for the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, Joseph Zesski, program manager for the Northeast Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Center, and Michael Blatt, director of the Office for Individuals with Disabilities in Ocean County, were the guest speakers.

Boyd discussed how organizations and employees should prepare to assist individuals with disabilities during emergencies like adverse weather events, and the importance of registering a disability with New Jersey’s Register Ready program.

“Folks with disabilities and functional needs, their friends, family, or caregivers, can enter the information into the database, in terms of what their needs are, so emergency responders can use it to enhance their planning,” Boyd said. “That will help them prepare for how to respond in the event of an emergency.”

Zesski provided an overview of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, and their positive impacts on the employment of individuals with disabilities.

“There’s been a historic disenfranchisement, a lot of historical misperceptions about the abilities or capacities of individuals with disabilities, and that’s what both laws address,” Zesski said. “What will help to make an equal playing field? Not necessarily a preferred opportunity, but an equal opportunity and what that means.”

Blatt summarized the benefits to organizations that hire individuals with disabilities and importance of keeping a focus on equal opportunity in hiring plans.

“Real change does not happen by chance or by luck. It happens by advocacy, awareness and taking action,” Blatt said. “Studies have shown that when leadership really wants an inclusive environment, when they give supervisors the tools and the trainings they need to develop a good workforce with people with disabilities, it succeeds.”

As part of the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Diversity and Inclusion program, IWDAT’s mission is to support the recruitment, retention, professional development and advancement of individuals with disabilities, including wounded warriors and individuals with targeted disabilities.

“I am very proud to be part of a command that places an emphasis on inclusion,” Parga said. “If an organization can have ‘gestures,’ I visualize promoting inclusion as a gesture of kindness from the organization, just like the gesture of holding the door for someone or greeting someone with a smile are gestures of kindness. These gestures produce a positive culture and create a pleasant work environment.”