“Words mean more than what is set down on paper.
It takes human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”
– Maya Angelou
At the NIH, diversity and inclusion is a priority. We recognize, that to be successful in this endeavor, diversity and inclusion efforts must be systemic throughout each facet of our organization. NIH took a milestone step in the Summer of 2013 to ensure inclusion is embedded into the fabric of our agency.
For some time now, the NIH Mission Statement read, “…to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.”
David Rice, a management analyst at the National Eye Institute, felt that his disability was not a “burden" and raised the question of whether NIH would be willing to modify the mission statement so as to not offend individuals who do not consider their disabilities (or themselves) to be burdensome.
David’s suggestion infused human voice into the mission statement, questioning its deeper implications. He knew that there was no ill intent in the use of the word “burden” itself. However, he also recognized the reality that, for some, it carries a negative connotation, implying that people with a disability are a burden, or carry their disability as a burden. Rice’s suggestion served as the catalyst for a conversation around the inclusivity of the mission statement.
He submitted a proposal to Kimberly Kirkpatrick, then-NIH Disability Portfolio Strategist. She worked with the Disability Portfolio Advisory Committee to develop and present alternative mission statements to NIH leadership for consideration. After careful review, the phrase “the burdens of” was removed from the Agency’s mission statement.
The NIH Mission Statement now reads, “…to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce illness and disability.”
We celebrate this achievement as a demonstration of the NIH’s value for the voice of each employee and its commitment to building a diverse and inclusive community, and we look forward to the many achievements to come.