Outreach, Education, and Advocacy
Danny Housley, assistive technology equipment case manager at Shepherd Center, raises awareness in the community about equity, inclusion, and accessibility for people with disabilities.
Today, some of society’s greatest needs are more equity, inclusion, and accessibility for people with disabilities. Shepherd Center employee Danny Housley, who joined Shepherd Center in February 2021, is determined to do his part to address that need by using his unique perspective to teach the community a new way to think about disabilities. Appropriately, he works in one of Shepherd’s innovation hubs, the Assistive Technology Center (ATC).
As assistive technology equipment case manager, Danny connects patients with community resources and services that can assist them with accessing, paying for, using, and optimizing assistive equipment they need to live independently. He is also part of Shepherd Center’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Council, where he educates colleagues about how these issues affect the disability community. There are three common threads in everything Housley does: outreach, education, and advocacy.
“I’ve been passionate about advocating for the disability community my entire career,” Housley says. “This is a topic that affects all of us because anyone can become part of the disability community at any point in their lives. You can be born with it, like me, or become that way.”
Housley, who was born blind, presents to a variety of audiences about DEIA and the disability community. To illustrate his point, he uses his experiences as concrete examples of daily barriers he faces. But awareness is only half the battle.
“Of course, you want to be aware of the issues,” Housley explains, “but the next step is asking how you can be an active participant and help break down barriers.”
To help that cause, Housley co-led a training with Liz Persaud, program and outreach manager at Tools for Life, Georgia’s Assistive Technology Act Program based out of Georgia Tech, for staff at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia. The training covered topics like disability awareness, culture, history, and best practices for respectfully interacting with patrons with disabilities.
“We want to reframe how people perceive disability,” Housley says. “I’m not a ‘broken person’ because I have a disability; it’s the environment I’m in. When we design public spaces and interact with patrons, we need to make sure the environment allows everyone equal access to participate.”
He also emphasizes that making mistakes is human.
“If you say or do something to a person with a disability unintentionally, the biggest thing is that we identify it so we can fix it in the future,” Housley says.
The Center for Puppetry Arts took these lessons to heart and is already integrating Housley and Persaud’s presentation into their employee onboarding, as well as including accessible practices into their business, like incorporating audio-described performances for people with visual disabilities and including an American Sign Language interpreter for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Housley continues his efforts, most recently leading a presentation on behalf of the DEIA Council for Shepherd Center employees during the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act that discussed the legislation’s impact and the work yet to be done. He also provides tours of Shepherd Center’s ATC to donors, students, staff, and guests to demonstrate what assistive technology is and how Shepherd Center uses it for patients.
“Shepherd specializes in helping people with disabilities thrive,” Housley says. “It is nice to work at a place where this kind of outreach is supported. If we all work together, we can normalize disabilities and break down barriers.”
Written by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.