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District 7 Disability Advisory Committee members(from left)Barbara Lin, Francisco B. Paras Jr., Tara Griffith, Eddie Isaacs, Sylvia Delgado, Mylena Smith, Bridgitte Taylor; (center)Seyed 'Amir' Torabzadeh

District 7 Disability Advisory Committee
by  Maria Raptis
Issue Date: 06/2012

Working to tear down structural, physical and attitudinal barriers

(click on photo to enlarge)

Many of us have stories of challenges we encounter daily on our way to work – maybe a bus running late, a broken-down train on the rails ahead, or unexpected incidents on the freeway.

But, have you thought about what a day at work might be like as a person with a disability who is continuously challenged with barriers in the workplace? Small things that many of us take for granted - a door, a low electrical outlet, a high faucet or a box in the hallway - could be a big problem to someone who uses a wheelchair.

Caltrans District 7’s Disability Advisory Committee (DAC) is a group of volunteer employees who meet regularly to ensure that the district addresses these issues and increases awareness of mobility, accessibility and acceptance of employees with disabilities.

"We foster open and effective communication about issues facing people with disabilities," said Seyed ‘Amir’ Torabzadeh, District 7 DAC Chair, Transportation Engineer and District TASAS coordinator in the Office of Traffic Investigations, Operations Division. “We strive to keep the lines of communication open between management and us.”

The group wants more people to join them. Currently, its membership includes 10 to 12 active members – employees with and without disabilities – who are committed to ensuring that disabled co-workers receive equal access to facilities, programs, services and activities.

“We’re seeking individuals who want to make a difference and see results. We want to remove all barriers, not just structural, but also attitudinal barriers,” said Torabzadeh. “Our common goal is to make positive changes for others and to make life in the workplace a little easier and more productive.”

The DAC makes recommendations to management about departmental policies, procedures and practices affecting persons with disabilities and promotes education and sensitivity training by sponsoring presentations and guest speakers on disability-related issues. These occur mostly in October, during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

DAC’s goal is for a representative from each of the 10 divisions in District 7 to participate and motivate others in committee activities. Under the scope and direction of the Equal Opportunity Employment program, DAC meets monthly every second Tuesday at 1 p.m. in the District Office building.

“District 7 makes every effort to ensure equal access to departmental programs, services, and activities,” says Gwiin Correa, Chief, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO). “It is an organizational and an individual responsibility to treat each other with equality, courtesy, dignity and respect.”

DAC is a member of the statewide Caltrans Disability Advisory Council, established in compliance with the state Government Code 19795(b), requiring each state agency to establish a DAC (Deputy Directive-42-R3), to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and state disability laws. The EEO unit, part of District 7 External Affairs Division, oversees the group’s activities.

“We must be sensitive to each other's needs,” said Sylvia Delgado, EEO Officer, ADA and Title VI Liaison. “This includes speaking for a hearing impaired person, keeping areas clear of boxes and obstacles, or by simply ensuring that the larger bathroom stall is available for the individual who may need it.”

“Promoting and enhancing awareness and sensitivity towards co-workers with disabilities could be as simple as the language used to refer to someone,” said Torabzadeh. “It’s more positive to say ‘person with a disability’ than ‘disabled person.’ It’s more positive to say ‘wheelchair user’ than ‘confined to a wheelchair.’ The person and his or her abilities are addressed first.”

For more information on DAC, please contact Seyed “Amir” Torabzadeh at 213-897-0085; or District 7 EEO Officer, Sylvia Delgado at 213-897-8244.