New Pitt Disability Community creates a group for faculty and staff with disabilities


Alanna Reid | Staff Photographer

Chloe Shearer, a statistician with the Human Engineering Research Laboratory in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, started the Pitt Disability Community in January.

By Elizabeth Primrose, Staff Writer

Chloe Shearer was shocked upon being hired last November to find that Pitt did not have a faculty and staff community group for people with disabilities. So she took it upon herself to start one.

“There was a list of community groups for faculty and staff and there wasn’t really a group for people with disabilities, which I was really surprised by because it’s the largest minority group,” Shearer, a statistician with the Human Engineering Research Laboratory in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, said. “So, I was just looking for a community. I definitely don’t consider myself a leader, but it was a situation of — if it doesn’t exist and you want it, you have to create it.”

Shearer created the Pitt Disability Community this January. The group aims to be a unified voice to the greater Pitt community on issues regarding disability, to raise awareness of both disability in the workplace and the resources available to Pitt professionals with disabilities and to build community among people with disabilities, according to the Pitt Disability Community’s page on the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion website.

According to Shearer, who leads the group of about 30 individuals, the Pitt Disability Community hosts various virtual events as well as sends awareness emails on certain topics, such as Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day.

Shearer said some of the events have included discussions on articles, podcasts and movies related to people with disabilities.

“I’ll curate some articles that I’ve read recently and some good podcasts and I’ll send those out to the group,” Shearer said. “We do a lot of movie discussions where I’ll send out a name of a movie that we’ll watch. Everyone watches it, then everyone shows up and we talk about it. Sometimes we talk about things that aren’t even related to the movie.”

Recently, Shearer said she sent out an article about disabilities in outer space that the group discussed.

“I really liked our discussion about disabilities in space,” Shearer said. “I sent out an article about how the European space program was looking for astronauts with disabilities, but only people who were missing legs or were really short — which is pretty narrow of what disabilities look like.”

She said this discussion brought up interesting points about how people with disabilities are uniquely equipped for different situations in space but are not being recognized.

“It was just so funny to think about all the ways in which people with disabilities might be uniquely equipped for space travel but are overlooked,” Shearer said. “Some people don’t eat solid foods, so you won’t need space food. People who are blind — if the lights go out if there is a power failure — can still work and try to get the power back on.”

But she also said not all of the events are disability-related. Shearer said the group has also hosted Zoom sessions with pets and handcrafting hangouts for those who like to knit or paint.

“We’ll also just do social things that aren’t necessarily disability-focused,” Shearer said. “It’s just kind of nice to be social with people who have similar experiences to you.”

More information on how to participate in these events, which are open to everyone, can be found on the Pitt Disability Community page. Upcoming events include a pet social hour, a book discussion on “Disability Visibility by Alice Wong and a movie discussion on Inside Out.

Lyron Graves, employee accommodation coordinator within the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, assisted Shearer with launching the Pitt Disability Community and now serves as a resource to the group. Graves said his involvement with the group has naturally fit with his role at Pitt, allowing him to interact with employees beyond Americans with Disabilities Act requests.

“As a part of my mission to ensure the disabled employee population is accommodated per the ADA, being a part of the group allows me to interact with these employees outside of an accommodation request process,” Graves said. “I am very pleased with the variety of activities that have been devised and offered thus far.”

Casey Buchanan-Smith got involved with the Pitt Disability Community after asking Disability Services directly if Pitt had a community or advocacy group when she was first onboarded this past January. Since she has participated in disability representation and accessibility awareness throughout her work and personal life, Buchanan-Smith said she wanted to continue this work through the Pitt Disability Community.

“I’ve been regularly involved in the digital accessibility and disability space through my work and in my personal life,” Buchanan-Smith, graphic and web designer for the Idea Lab at the Institute for Clinical Research Education, said. “I really enjoy the discussion groups and communities I have participated in and want to continue fostering disability representation and accessibility awareness here at Pitt.”

Buchanan-Smith now assists Shearer in brainstorming future programming for the Pitt Disability Community and in ensuring that all of the content provided is accessible.

While the Pitt Disability Community is still relatively new, Graves said he predicts it will have great success as it progresses forward.

“Although the Pitt Disability Community has only recently launched, I foresee great things for the group,” Graves said. “As the group pushes forward, I am certain that it will continue to be a resource for employees with disabilities and continue its growth trajectory.”

A previous version of this story referred to Buchanan-Smith’s employer as the Institute for Clinical Research and Education. It is the Institute for Clinical Research Education. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Pitt News regrets this error.