Assoc. Prof. Valdez teaching UVA students about disability in contemporary society

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 3:23 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - More than 22,000 people filed Americans With Disability Act charges in 2021. Workplace discrimination is an issue that many are trying to address, including here in Charlottesville.

“I think there is a lot of kind of misunderstanding about disability,” Rupa Valdez said.

Valdez speaks from first-hand experience: She uses a wheelchair for long distances, and has some vision-related disabilities.

“Because it had happened right before I entered the job market, I really had no sense of what my rights were, how to, you know, engage in these conversations,” Valdez said.

Valdez is an associate professor of engineering systems and environment and public health sciences at the University of Virginia. She also teaches students about advocacy within the workplace.

“We talk about disability in employment, but we also talk about disability in art, in media, in sports, in healthcare” she said.

Valdez recommends a few steps is there is workplace discrimination: Know your rights, and give someone the opportunity to do the right thing.

“If that is not a constructive conversation, moving on to thinking about filing an internal complaint and working with HR,” she said. “Lastly, if that doesn’t work out, of course, then there is the option to file a complaint with the EEOC, federally, and then within Virginia, in particular, with the Division of Human Rights.”

Valdez also helped start the Blue Trunk Foundation, which helps everyone have access to travel, no matter what.

“Our vision is to create a world where it’s easier and more enjoyable for people with disabilities and older adults and those with chronic health conditions to travel and really explore the world around them,” Valdez said.

In the past, Blue Trunk has partnered with VisitAble, both working to expand access.

“We’re working on creating a more proactive, positive motivation for both public and private entities to consider or think about and improve their disability inclusion,” VisitAble Found and CEO Joe Jamison said. “The whole entire problem that VisitAble trying to solve is the gap that we’ve seen between ADA compliance and actual inclusion for people with disabilities.”

Other resources include the Job Accommodation Network and Charlottesville’s Independence Resource Center.

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