Ability Resource Group aims to increase awareness, create culture of inclusion

Dec 20, 2017, 09:08 AM by Shannon Porter
(L-R) Philesha Evans, Ritchie Adoue (co-chair), Lycia Champagne (cochair), Dr. Kimberly Sherill, Ian Barrett and Imelda Wicks.
Dr. Kimberly Sherill does not look at her physical disability as a hindrance, but rather an admittance to a world of experience that better connects her with her patients.

“I hope I have more compassion for those struggling with different types of handicaps and illnesses,” said Sherill, a board-certified psychiatrist and 1980 UTMB graduate. “I understand the fatigue, the depression, the discouragement—as well as the joy in achieving a difficult goal.”

Sherill has paralysis in her left arm and weaknesses in her right arm after battling polio when she was just 8 months old. She recently spoke at UTMB’s Ability Resource Group inaugural meeting to share her experience with a disability and acceptance.

“I hope through the Ability Resource Group, students and employees feel they can connect with each other so they don’t feel so alone and isolated,” Sherill said. “I hope information about accommodations can be readily available to those who don’t know what’s out there.”

Over the years, her disability has made some things more difficult—like starting IVs and scrubbing for surgery—she said. But it never stopped her from pursuing her dream to become a doctor—even when some universities thought she wouldn’t be able to complete their curriculum or excel as a physician because of it.

UTMB was the only medical school at the time that didn’t see it as a concern, she said.

“UTMB officially interviewed me and accepted me in more ways than one,” Sherill said.

Today, UTMB strives to be inclusive of all students and employees. Recently, with the launch of the Ability Resource Group, UTMB hopes to increase awareness and create a culture of inclusion for those impacted by a disability. The group is open to all employees and students.

Ultimately, the organization hopes to be an outlet for employees and students to share experiences, thoughts and ideas and a resource for locating information of interest related to disabilities.

“This is the beginning, this is the beginning of innovative thinking, the beginning of fresh ideas, and the beginning of new approaches for helping UTMB face challenges over the next few years and continuing to achieve success,” said Philesha Evans, associate vice president of Human Resources, Direct Entity Services.

Of UTMB’s 13,000 employees, about 9 percent have self-identified that they have a disability, said Imelda Wicks, a Diversity and Inclusion consultant.

“That is another objective—to make sure we understand the total population so we can address those needs,” Wicks said. “One in five Americans has a disability, but many of us might be allies or have a family member or co-worker with a disability.”

The Ability Resource Group will work to make sure UTMB continues to be an institution that raises diversity awareness, she said.

“We want to make sure we welcome everyone and that UTMB continues to be an employer of choice, a school of choice and a provider of choice,” Wicks said.

By hiring more employees and admitting more students with disabilities, Sherill believes UTMB will begin to normalize disability within the institution and diminish the stigma often associated with disabilities.

“I hope UTMB will continue to take a chance on admitting students with disabilities like they did with me,” Sherill said.

For more information, visit https://hr.utmb.edu/diversity/ability.