A4DePaul set to officially launch with upcoming inaugural meeting


Bianca Cseke | The DePaulia

DePaul University Lincoln Park campus.

A newly formed faculty and staff affinity group called the Ability Alliance with Allies and Advocates, or A4DePaul, is preparing for their first meeting. 

The group wants to create an environment where staff and faculty can talk openly about disabilities on campus and how they relate to their lives. 

The first meeting will be held Thursday, May 26 at 1:00 p.m. and will be open to all DePaul faculty and staff through registration on Eventbrite. It will include initial discussions about the group’s draft mission statement and survey feedback for future planning. 

Kelly Tzoumis, a professor at DePaul’s School of Public Service, and Kent Klaus, senior instructor at the School of Accountancy, are the co-founders of the group. Both have significant experience in allyship and advocacy for people with disabilities, which includes experience on DePaul’s Faculty Learning Community for Teaching Learners with Disabilities

“We would like employees and staff with some connection to disability, whether themselves or in their relationships, to view this community as a place to go to understand how to develop and support those relationships or deal with those disabilities with given resources,” Klaus said. 

A4DePaul is the newest of the plethora of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) that is available for staff and faculty. However, it is the first ERG at DePaul that is related to employees with disabilities. 

“Our goal by creating this ERG is to provide some opportunities here at DePaul that someone would have if they worked elsewhere,” Klaus said. “Other employers, both in the Chicago area and nationally, have identified employees with disabilities as an area of diversity and inclusion.” 

Tzoumis, who has been a faculty member at DePaul for 17 years, originally became involved with resource groups on campus to get a sense of connection among herself and her colleagues. 

“It was hard as a professor here to see where to connect and find a network because this community has both hidden and observational disabilities,” Tzoumis said. “I started talking to the provost office and mentioned that we needed something to help staff, faculty and all the employees.” 

A4DePaul offers advocacy and support for people with disabilities in a multitude of ways, one of which is providing unique events to inform people about how perception of disabilities affects those living with them. 

On Thursday, A4DePaul partnered with the BUILD Diversity Certificate program, which is sponsored by The Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity to host Pia Jutesen as a guest speaker. 

Justesen, who is a human rights lawyer and author, spoke about her book “From the Periphery” which consists of around 40 first-person narratives of everyday people and activists in the United States who describe what it’s like to be treated differently by society because of visible and invisible disabilities. 

One thing that “From the Periphery” tackles is the importance of acknowledging that both noticed and unnoticed disabilities affect the everyday lives and treatment of people in the workforce. This is something that A4DePaul strives to address among community members.

Elizabeth Ortiz, the current vice president of Institutional Diversity and Equity at DePaul, said that hiring staff and faculty with disabilities is vital for maintaining a well-rounded and diverse community for DePaul’s students to look up to. 

“Representation provides critical role models for students with disabilities, faculty and staff who understand students’ experience and can help them navigate the resources both internally and externally to DePaul,” Ortiz said. 

Once a recruitment effort is made and staff and faculty members with disabilities are brought onboard, Ortiz feels like ERG’s such as A4DePaul are necessary to provide an environment where employees can thrive. 

“Creating efforts to diversify the workforce requires an investment in building the infrastructure to support these initiatives,” Ortiz said. 

Additionally, DePaul’s multi-year grant through the Academic Growth and Innovation Fund continues to recruit staff and employees with disabilities. A4DePaul will provide a place where people can connect with others and not feel isolated. 

A4DePaul already has a steering committee of six faculty and staff members across the university. They are hoping that their community can expand so that staff and faculty can be a part of both, making a positive difference and finding people to connect with. 

“I was looking for a community,” Tzoumis said. “I think we are starting to really build that community.”