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NIH Mission Statement Amended After Input from Deaf Employee

Deaf Employee Is Heard,
NIH Mission Statement Is Amended


By Rich McManus, nih record

At the suggestion of a National Eye Institute employee who is deaf, NIH recently amended its official mission statement.

The one-sentence statement had said, “NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.”

But because David Rice, a management analyst at NEI since October 2009, felt that his particular disability was not a burden, he wanted to know if NIH director Dr. Francis Collins would be willing to modify the mission statement so as not to offend people who do not consider their disabilities to be burdensome.

Recently, the phrase “the burdens of” was removed from the statement, which now reads, “NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce illness and disability.”

According to Debra Chew, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management, this was a lesson in NIH compassion and responsiveness.

“This was a very important event from a diversity perspective,” said Chew, who arrived at NIH last July. “It shows that an individual employee can raise concerns that Dr. Collins will take seriously and address. I think that’s good. NIH has no wish to have a mission statement that offends people…It just goes to show you that we all have different perspectives.”

David Rice
NEI’s David Rice objected to NIH’s mission statement and took his concerns to NIH leadership, who ended up agreeing with him. 

Chew met Rice last fall at a “meet and greet” and mentioned that he had a problem with the mission statement. As she recalls, “He told me, ‘We don’t consider ourselves to be burdens, nor do we consider our disability a burden…Would you ask Dr. Collins to consider a change?’”

Chew broached the issue with Collins, “who was immediately agreeable to a change,” she said. “No one had really looked at [the statement] this way. David really raised a good point.”

Chew took the suggestion to Kim Kirkpatrick, OEODM’s disability program manager, who also chairs NIH’s disability committee. “Once we realized that Dr. Collins was open to a change, we got input from the disability committee on proposed language,” said Chew. Two versions were proposed and the three-word change was adopted.

“This is a symbolic moment for NIH,” said Chew. “It’s really about [Rice’s] courage. He did a great thing for the NIH.”

Rice, who became deaf at age 4, recalls the “grace and integrity” with which his parents dealt with his removal from the school system once he became deaf; they found a school better equipped to handle his needs. “It was the fire that my parents had that led me to want to become an advocate not only for the deaf community but also for all those who have a disability,” he said.



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