Shileta Gorham is a change agent for the disability community here at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), bringing attention to the accessibility challenges for individuals with physical disabilities. Because of Shileta, the sidewalk between Building 2 and Building 31 on NIH's main campus was removed and replaced at a lower grade that will allow individuals with physical disabilities to safely access Building 31 without needing to change their route.
What led you to your career? Did you choose it? Did it choose you?
This career most certainly found me, and I enthusiastically wanted to be a part of it. I wanted individuals like me to have a seat at the table and have a voice.
I gained an appreciation and passion for inclusion before coming to NIH, but as an individual with a disability, I wouldn’t have it any other way. People with disabilities are often not considered for most careers, and though this is changing [progress is slow], the fact remains that the unemployment rate of persons with disabilities is much higher than that of individuals without disabilities. People with disabilities are a demographic of individuals who want to work and, more often than not, will work harder than an individual without a disability, in my opinion.
Of what professional accomplishment here at the NIH are you most proud?
Global Accessibility Initiative. The initiative came to be during my first few months as a new employee of the NIH during my commute around campus. I noticed a few barriers that prevented me from being able to travel the campus independently and efficiently.
When traveling to and from Buildings 2, 31 and others, I noticed that many of the entryways to buildings were difficult to get in and out due to them being heavy and not being easy to open. Not only that, I noticed that the sidewalks were either steeply sloped in certain areas and either cracked or uneven, making it difficult for me to travel.
Noticing that these things could be barriers to others with disabilities, I wanted to help. So, I started taking note of things that would make the campus more accessible to myself and others of the NIH community – inviting others to make note of barriers they experienced while travel about the campus and send them to me– which lead me to compile a list of things that would make the NIH more inclusive but accessible as well.
Why is diversity important at NIH?
Diversity is important in general--not only within the NIH. Diversity brings people together from different cultural backgrounds and experiences. A diverse workforce allows for an environment where a range of different approaches and ideas can be cultivated and implemented to achieve the mission of the NIH.
What makes the NIH a special place for you?
I haven’t been with NIH for as long as some of my colleagues, but in my time here, I have enjoyed the environment in which I work, the people I’ve had the opportunity to interact with, and the copious amount of activities held on campus that allow for work/life balance. There are also the many opportunities to grow and succeed—the experiences you gain at the NIH will last you a lifetime.
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