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Tag Archive for: hidden disabilities

University of South Florida Student Uses Love of Reading to Impact Others

This article was written by Johnson Scholar Elaine Feaster, a student at the University of South Florida. It is shared here with permission.

A person stands by an outdoor lending library shaped like a small house on a pole and a box of children's books.

Elaine poses with a Little Lending Library at the University Area Community Park, where she donated books as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award.

My name is Elaine Feaster and I’m a recipient of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, which will help me pursue my academic and career goals. In August, I started at the University of South Florida in the College of Education. I’m so excited to officially begin working toward my profession in education—as I believe that the education of children is the foundation of our society. 

I’m studying to be a secondary social science teacher with my goal to get a PhD to eventually teach at the university level. I have always had a passion for helping others, as demonstrated through my over 475 service volunteer hours during high school, so I knew that helping others in some capacity would be at the heart of my career.

During my four years at Freedom High School in Tampa, I was a part of the National Honor Society, National Art Honor Society, National Science Honor Society, National Latin Honor Society, Key Club, Environmental Club, FBLA, Best Buddies, and the varsity volleyball team. Outside of school, I have volunteered with the Girl Scouts, YMCA, Knights of Columbus, Greater Tampa Bay Blue Star Mothers, Metropolitan Ministries, and Oasis Opportunities. I have devoted many hours to the YMCA. For four years I was a youth volunteer coach for volleyball, where I mentored, helped, and encouraged young volleyball players to develop their skills and sportsmanship.

The volunteering I’m most proud of is the time I spent working on my Girl Scout Gold Award, focusing on Literary Awareness. When I was in third grade, I was diagnosed with a reading disability, so literacy was at the top of ways I could give back. I began promoting literacy and getting books into the hands of children who didn’t have them.

This past summer I completed my Girl Scout Gold Award, where I collected and donated 4,400 books to at-risk students and communities (stamped with my website; now in total I have donated 11,500 books to underperforming schools), created a resource Literacy Portal Website——to help people understand the importance of reading, and I created a Book Buddy resource information packet (which can be downloaded from my website) on how schools can help struggling students with reading. I wanted to make a lasting impact in my community and help children, knowing that other students have similar challenges that I have.

Receiving this scholarship has helped me be able to live on campus, which I absolutely love. I’m close to my classes, I meet friends at the dining halls and pool, I’ve participated in many campus events and activities, and I use all of the study resources. USF is such a great school, with diverse communities and getting to meet so many new people. After taking a semester to get familiar with the school, I plan on joining a few clubs and organizations next semester getting more involved with the USF community. I enjoy my classes and making connections with my classmates and professors. Even though the university is big, I have gotten to know my instructors—and that connection is invaluable. I look forward to being a part of the USF community in the years to come.

Making Disability a part of the DEI Discussion

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is at the forefront of every talent management strategy. During 2020, companies found themselves facing significant challenges with respect to DEI and determined they needed to re-examine efforts on race, equity, justice and opportunity.

Yet one element of diversity is frequently left out of most DEI conversations – disability. Disability employee engagement is a gap companies are only just beginning to explore. A review of 10 years’ worth of data from companies around the globe showed stark differences between employee engagement of people with disabilities as compared to those without. But most significantly, it revealed how little data existed. While 90 percent of the companies said they have diversity initiatives, only 4 percent included disability in their diversity programs.

Global Disability Inclusion, in partnership with Mercer, the world’s largest human resources consulting firm, is launching a groundbreaking climate and culture survey focused on employees with disabilities and their workplace experiences.

The goal of the survey, known as Amplify, is to provide companies with valuable insights into the work experience of both people with disabilities and those without, allowing them to improve policies, programs and procedures to create greater equity in the workplace and ultimately improve climate and culture.

“Companies are unaware of the employment experiences of people with disabilities because disability is too often left out of the broader diversity conversation,” said Meg O’Connell, CEO and Founder, Global Disability Inclusion. “What we created is a new survey that asks disability-specific questions. It will incorporate questions for both the person with disabilities as well as people without disabilities so that the entire culture at a company can be measured.”

The survey will launch on Feb. 14, and there’s still time to register.

The survey includes everything from experiences on leadership, for example, “Senior leaders promote diversity and inclusion,” to achievement, such as “I have the opportunity for advancement in my company,” to identity and disability inclusion, which looks at whether people are comfortable disclosing their disability status and whether accommodations are provided.

“The majority of disabilities are invisible, whether it’s mental health, neurological, or a learning disability, and most people don’t disclose their disabilities if they have them,” O’Connell said. It may be surprising that likely 15-20 percent of the employee population could identify as having a disability, she added. “We want to help create a better culture of inclusion where people aren’t afraid to talk about their disability status or ask for an accommodation. The opportunity to impact what is likely 15-20 percent of the employee population is monumental.”

For more information about the survey or to have your company participate, contact O’Connell at or visit Amplify | Global Disability In (

Meg O’Connell is Founder & CEO of Global Disability Inclusion, working with companies, foundations and non-profits to provide strategic direction, design and implementation of disability employment and inclusion programs.