Every October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) celebrates the many contributions of American workers with disabilities. Renee Gardner, an orientation advisor at WGU, is one of the 18 million individuals navigating employment with a disability.
Renee first came to WGU as a student to earn her master’s degree. Reflecting on her journey, she says, “I did not think I needed to extend my secondary education further than [a bachelor’s degree] until I looked at the great educational resources WGU provided and then decided to obtain my master’s here.”
Shortly after completing her master’s, Renee was hired as an orientation advisor by WGU’s Orientation Department. It wasn’t long before she experienced firsthand how important having a workplace that supports employees’ life experiences can be.
“A few years after starting employment at WGU,” Renee says, “I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that has forever changed my life. Multiple Sclerosis is such an unpredictable disease.” She emphasizes the importance of “having other employees to talk to and obtain WGU resources to best assist myself so that I can better support students.”
Renee’s commitment to students is evident in her dedication to providing all the help she can at the start of their educational journey. She says, “I speak to students who have worked with Enrollment and begin their first course here at WGU. Students contact Orientation for assistance with navigating through the Orientation course modules, as well as completing their Orientation Performance Assessment.”
During her time at WGU, she has witnessed the institution’s commitment to celebrating the diversity of its students and employees. When asked about positive changes she has observed in the workplace, she says, “WGU has grown a lot since the time I started off here. I am very excited that WGU has a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Department and provides an ERG for employees. I am hopeful that WGU will branch out with a Student Resource Group for students who feel DE&I will help them.”
In reflection of what National Disability Employment Awareness Month means for her, Renee keeps it short yet impactful: “I think it is very important that all individuals are treated the same, whether an employee or student.”