Doing a 180° on disABILITY


By: Domenic Fraboni

For those of you who may not be aware, October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This month’s origin took root back in 1945. It was then that our US Congress labeled the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week” (I like the current name better). The roots set back in ’45 finally blossomed into a whole month of awareness in 1998 (taking the current name). This month is focused on drawing attention to the employment barriers that still need to be addressed for those individuals working with a disability.

Personally, I think that this month can introduce another question: How are we able to transition these discussions about disabilities into discussions about abilities instead? I’m not at all trying to take focus off of the employment barriers that exist for employees with some functional disability. Instead I am trying to articulate that we somehow need to help individuals who may have a disability, of any type, origin, or magnitude, realize how to turn that “disability” into abilities they may have never otherwise realized. There is one group that I think can help us start making this transition from disability to ability: the disABILITY Mayo Employee Resource Group (MERG).

disability_vmiAs previously promised, here is your monthly update on one of the institutional MERGs (and I WILL constantly be in your ear about getting involved in these great organizations). The disABILITY MERG has a very straightforward mission. They aim to continuously improve the work environment and patient experience for people with disabilities. Aligned with Mayo Clinic values, the disABILITY MERG promotes, educates and welcomes Mayo Clinic employees (aiming education at all and not only those with disabilities) who are interested in working towards making positive change in the lives of employees, families, and patients with visible and invisible disabilities. Their aim is to retain and develop current employees, recruit new talent, and remove barriers of inclusivity.

Now, some of you may be wondering: How in the heck can you twist a disability into an ability?! I’ll give you an example, and I’ll even use the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health model to back me up (this is for you, DPT classmates). Say a middle-aged woman has a left hemisphere stroke resulting primarily in motor weakness, uncoordinated movement, and increased spasticity on her right side. Yes, now this woman has a new, potentially devastating impairment (muscle weakness and increased spasticity). Also, this impairment is likely resulting in some reduction in specific body structure or function (lack of ROM due to contractures and increased difficulty in coordinated movement of right LE and UE). But does this impairment need to result in a functional disability? Would this woman be able to find strategies for ambulation and mobility? Can we help her focus on her incredible attributes such as people skills and communication to enhance her performance in whatever work setting or career she may aspire to obtain? Maybe she can even use her success to help aid others who are be battling challenges similar to hers? I say, yes. I think she does have all of these abilities. Forget the talk about “disability” and “disabled.” What is your ability?!

How to Get Involved (I’m looking at you grad students!!):

There are countless opportunities for students and employees alike to get involved in the disABILITY MERG. There are six working groups, meeting twice monthly, that focus on topics like inclusive environment, accessibility, centralizing resources, networking, and recruiting. You can join the MERG mailing list, or learn more about the MERG working groups by sending an email to or by connecting with them on Yammer. This way you can receive the periodic announcements, event information, and new monthly newsletter this group sends out.

Bob Bardwell crushing a race with his mind, heart, and will (combined with amazing abilities in his wheelchair).
Bob Bardwell crushing a race with his mind, heart, and will (combined with amazing abilities in his wheelchair).

Upcoming Event: “It’s Not What Happens to You, It’s What You Do About It”

October 18, 2016 – 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.

Bob Bardwell is no stranger to battling the challenges that will arise due to an acquired “disability.” Bob is someone who has been able to take adversity in his life and turn them into ability, success, and philanthropic endeavors beyond what most “able bodied” individuals could dream of. He has completed greater than 100 wheelchair marathons, winning a good majority of them, and now travels the country helping motivate others to find their ability. Please take an hour on the 18th to come listen to Bob in Leighton Lecture Hall OR live stream the event here.

We’re not in Rochester anymore, Toto…

But wait, there’s more! The disABILITY MERG extends to the Mayo Clinic Arizona campus as well. Last week, on 10/6/16,  the disABILITY MERG- Arizona (in collaboration with Mayo Clinic- Arizona) sponsored Phoenix’s 10thAnnual Breakfast With Champions. This event is meant to highlight individuals who have conquered their supposed disability and achieved greatness. This year’s event, hosted by Special Olympics Arizona, highlighted Alan Barberi’s story. Alan was born with spina bifida and told that he would be immobile his entire life. Boy did he show them otherwise.  In 2015, Alan participated in several events in Unified Track and Field. However, his real goal was accomplished on May 21, 2015 when he stood up out of his wheelchair and walked across stage to receive his high school diploma. Instant chills.  This event is just one of the many incredible things that the disABILITY MERG- Arizona helps do for their community.  Check them out if you get a chance!

Attendees of the Breakfast with Champions. Members of five out of six of the Mayo Clinic Arizona MERGs (including disABILITY MERG) are represented here.


Get involved. Educate yourself. Create inclusive environments. Live your abilities.

Author Bio: Domenic is a second year student in the Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program at Mayo School of Health Sciences. He enjoys playing/writing music, anything outdoors or active, and an occasional plate of nachos.

Acknowledgements: Big thank you to Jen Ingram from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for connecting me with the leaders of the disABILITY MERG and to Claire Reeve (Chair of the Rochester MERG) for all of the information she provided me with.

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