DECEMBER 3, 2022 | Contributed by: Alea Whitesell, Special Accounts Manager. For International Day of Person’s with Disabilities, we are lifting-up the voices and mission of our Poss-Ability Employee Network here at First West.

“​It was late-2019 that I responded to a survey looking for employees interested in launching a peer-directed group focusing on disabilities and accessibility at First West. I could feel a bubble of excitement at the opportunity because the subject so closely matched much of my life experience—in my community, my family and including myself! 

My mother and a sibling have cerebral palsy, and growing up organizations like The Variety Club, Special Olympics and disability camps were just part of our family life and activities. I got to create relationships with and observe the unique ways in which people with various disabilities interact with the world. I also became familiar with the responsibilities of people who are caregivers for people with disabilities. So later in my life, when I developed ulcerative colitis and arthritis, I already had a heightened sense of what living with disabilities could look like.

Of course, I’m still learning too, which is why I was so excited to sign my name up for an Employee Network Group that is bringing both awareness and education to First West.

When the Poss-Ability Network first got together, the early days were busy with deciding our focus. We wanted to raise people’s knowledge of disabilities and make talking about accessibility a comfortable subject within our workplace. Our purpose needed be both broad and inclusive so that every employee felt welcome; so, our mission became:

To initiate and support activities that increase awareness, understanding and empathy of Persons with Disabilities through the lens of lived experience as well as allyship. The Poss-Abilities Network enables opportunities for continual education and safe spaces for sharing at First West.

Of course, having such a wide scope also presents a challenge: where do we even start raising awareness? We decided on opening our eyes to what’s often unseen: invisible disabilities, which can run the spectrum from learning disabilities, processing disorders, chronic pain, brain injuries, hearing or sight loss, digestive and other issues that have an impact on how someone interacts with the world.

Our employee webinar events, and digital conversations share knowledge and first hand stories that unite employees in having a greater understanding of each other’s experience. And in addition to these personal connections, we’ve consulted on how we improve physical and visual accessibility within our organization, as well as offering perspective on First West’s efforts around representation of persons with disabilities. To help create safe spaces, our group is also a resource for employees and managers seeking information on workplace best practices for disability, accommodation and care. Our future goals will be to create a great kinship of caring and committed people as we continue to grow.

Throughout my life, I’ve noticed that there are so many things we won’t know about someone else’s lived experience until we’re told. I love being at a place where we can be our authentic selves at work and have these conversations. It brings me such joy and pride to be part of the Poss-Ability Network and furthering the supportive culture for people with disabilities at First West.”

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