FORT BELVOIR, Virginia –
This year marks the 70th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month
, and to celebrate, the McNamara Headquarters Complex held two events to promote the achievements and contributions of people with disabilities.
On Oct. 14, actor Robert Chauncey portrayed Hugh Gallagher, a prominent disability rights advocate, in a play titled “My Blackbird Has Flown Away.” The play recounted Gallagher’s lifelong struggle with depression. After being confined to a wheelchair at age 19 following a bout with polio in 1952, Gallagher eventually regained the use of his hands and arms through daily physical therapy.
Noting that back then, “disabilities were treated differently,” Gallagher spent several years in and out of hospitals. After attending a well-known facility for those with polio, Gallagher learned how to physically adapt to life in a wheelchair. But mentally, he was going downhill.
“I received [physical therapy], but no psychological counseling. I learned how to be ‘me’ again but I was filled with anger and fear,” Chauncey said, playing the role of Gallagher.
Soon thereafter, Gallagher applied to be a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University but was turned down because he didn’t meet the requirement “of sound body and mind.” Eventually, years of denial about his abilities led to a breakdown in Gallagher’s mental health and the “blackbird” came to visit.
“On my 40th birthday, I saw the blackbird. It landed on my shoulder and I was terrified. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I quit my job and holed up in my home,” Chauncey said.
After fighting suicidal thoughts, Gallagher eventually went to a psychiatrist. The conclusion: After all those years of hating his body and its shortcomings, his mind had shut down. He continued to see his psychiatrist every week for the rest of his life and turned to advocacy as a way of coping. Gallagher was instrumental in passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and in 1995 was awarded the prestigious Henry Betts Award.
On Oct. 20, a disability awareness fair in the HQC Cafeteria featured various products and services available to individuals with disabilities. The fair, titled “Together We Make a Difference,” brought together several vendors that offered electronic accessibility products, such as captioned telephones and computer accommodations, as well as therapy dogs and other services. In addition, employees were given the opportunity to view demonstrations on video interpretation services as well as healthcare services that could be used at home or at work.
Both events were sponsored by the McNamara Headquarters Complex Special Emphasis Program Committee and the HQC Equal Employment Opportunity offices.