S4. Ep. 5
Emily, Tony & Anthony


May 17, 2022


17 minutes


Amplify Inclusion Podcast


Welcome to Amplify Inclusion, a podcast where we share authentic stories of inclusion in action.

Emily Villanueva, a former MOPD intern, discusses a recently launched mentorship program and her research on the topic. Tony Ceccato and Anthony Iacovetti, a mentorship pair from the program, also join to share about their experience.  Listen now or view the full transcript below. 

This episode was co-produced and engineered by Subframe Sound with music courtesy of Nealle DiPaolo. This season is made possible thanks to generous support from the Fred J. Brunner Foundation and members of the Aspire community.

Full Transcript

Clare 00:03 

Welcome to Amplify Inclusion. I’m Clare from the nonprofit, Aspire. Thanks for joining us for  stories and conversation about disability inclusion. In an effort to break down barriers to  employment, Aspire recently teamed up with the Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with  Disabilities, or MOPD, and Microsoft to launch a unique mentorship program centered on  careers in technology. Today, we’ll hear from a recent intern of MOPD, as well as two  individuals currently participating in the pilot program. Our first guest is Emily Villanueva, a  doctoral student in Occupational Therapy at Rush University Medical Center. Emily joined me to  discuss findings from her recent research project on mentorship, which she completed while  interning at MOPD. So Emily, let’s start off just by talking a little bit about the work that you’re  currently doing your role as an intern at the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities here in  Chicago. 

Emily 01:07 

So the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities is a, what we call a non-traditional  occupational therapy rotation site. And so, that means it’s not clinical, it’s not hands-on, but it’s  more to learn about city government and what occupational therapy can do in city government.  Um, so my interests are generally about accessibility and inclusion for people with all  disabilities, especially in the city of Chicago, because I live here and I go to school here. So that  left a very broad scope for me to work under. MOPD is opening a career center this year under  Deputy Commissioner Christina McGleam. And the Career Center will connect people with  disabilities to employment pathways. And so I was working a lot under Deputy Commissioner  Christina McGleam to build out this Employment Center, as well as build out the mentorship  program. 

Clare 01:52 

So some folks might not know what occupational therapy is. Could you give a brief definition of  what occupational therapy is?

Emily 02:00 

Of course- occupational therapy is unfortunately not a very well known field or not very well  explained. And so I would say generally, we help people get back to day-to-day tasks. And  whether that’s after an injury, someone who acquired a disability, was born with a disability, we  work with a ton of people. And we don’t specifically just do employment services, but what we  focus on is occupation. So those are your activities of daily living, instrumental activities of daily  living, which would be things like cooking, pet care, things like that. And so employment really  falls into this scope, because when people don’t have employment, and they can’t contribute in  ways they want to that is what we would consider occupational injustice. If someone wants to be  working, we want to find a way for them to be connected to employment or find different  pathways. 

Clare 02:46 

So let’s talk a little bit more about that research. Can you explain what the focus of your  research has been? 

Emily 02:53 

So in my program, we do a lot of research, and we do a lot of different research projects. I am  very interested in accessibility, inclusion, architectural accessibility, all of that. So that kind of  leads more to the research I did on peer mentorship. As I said before, occupational injustice  occurs when people who want employment aren’t able to because of systematic barriers. And  so my research here was more about employment and peer mentorship, which were two areas  that are really lacking research. There’s just not a big body of literature on that. And that given  that MOPD is opening up this employment center, I felt like it was a great opportunity to work on  this research while I was there. 

Clare 03:34 

Emily, when you set out to look at this question of the impact of mentorship for people with  disabilities in your research, did you have sort of an initial goal or a research question that was  really centering your work and your approach? 

Emily 03:50 

So the approach I took was to do a scoping review. And so I started with over 1000 articles, and  we only ended up with 12 that met our criteria. So basically, that just shows you there’s not  nearly enough research on such a huge body of people. So the purpose of my research and  kind of what initiated it was I just wanted to see how much is there out there. Because you don’t  want to do a study if there’s not even a foundation for that body of literature. And then from  there, future programs can kind of build on that. So it was more about seeing where do we still  have to bridge the gap in literature before we can even start doing more programs.

Clare 04:27 

So what did you find? What, what were the biggest gaps that you noticed in terms of what’s  working and what can really be improved? 

Emily 04:36 

The most common threads that came out were that the person with a disability wasn’t having  their voice heard as often. The results were about what the peer mentor got out of the program,  but not enough about what the mentee the person with a disability got out of the program. So  that was a huge like a glaring barrier there. They recommended frequent check-ins practicing  actual job skills and providing disability training to the mentors. So these are all things that they  saw as gaps or things that weren’t addressed that should be addressed in the future. 

Clare 05:08 

So I think you’re really clearly illustrating how this research aligned with MOPDs work on  mentorship. 

Emily 05:16 

Like I said MOPD focuses on promoting equity and inclusion for people with disabilities in the  city of Chicago. But we also know from various statistics and various studies from the census  that comes out every year that people with disabilities are employed at a much lower rate than  people without disabilities. And so in a way to sort of bridge that gap was to pilot this peer  mentorship program. Commissioner Rachel Arfa is the highest ranking deaf official in city  government and so she’s very passionate about this and Deputy Commissioner Christina  McGleam, they both recognize the importance of peer mentorship at all stages of life and  they’ve had peer mentors throughout their life. And so they felt it was extremely important to  engage peer mentorships when seeking it and obtaining employment. 

Clare 06:02 

MOPD launched the mentorship program in partnership with Microsoft and Aspire in February of  2022. The project paired Microsoft employees with young adults with disabilities seeking  careers in tech. Emily’s coinciding research revealed no other examples of mentorship  programs quite like it, making this three prong collaboration between a government body, a  company, and a nonprofit organization, notably unique. 

Emily 06:31 

When I disseminated my research, when I kind of laid it all out, I realized that all of the areas  that these programs lacked, we had accidentally somehow done all of them, we had somehow  implemented them far before I ever knew that those were recommendations for future  programs. So that was kind of fun, knowing that MOPD had done such a good job of building 

out this program and structuring it, and that we were somehow taking from the literature without  knowing it, how to improve programs. So that that was cool for me. 

Clare 07:06 

Yeah, and I know that Aspire has been so proud to team up with MOPD and Microsoft to be a  part of this. So let’s talk a little bit more about what those impacts were. First off, what are some  of the biggest outcomes that you’ve observed so far? 

Emily 07:21 

So I think the biggest outcomes were probably that there were social relationships built with  their peer mentor and peer mentee, very valuable job skills, and then things that they can use  as an actual outcome, like a physical outcome were the resumes, the mock interview skills, all  of that. So I think those were probably the biggest outcomes for the mentee, and mentor pairs.  But I think the biggest outcomes generally are showing that these type of programs can be very  successful even on a volunteer basis. The mentors all volunteered for this position. And they  were very involved, as well as the mentees they met more often than they were required to. And  so I think this program can kind of show how you can bring in all these different sectors, all  these different bodies, and produce a really successful program that can lead to employment  pathways. 

Clare 08:09 

I had the chance to meet with one of the mentorship pairs from this program to learn more about  the outcomes from their perspective. 

Tony 08:18 

Hi, my name is Tony Ceccato. I work at Microsoft. I’m a Principal Program Manager within the  MS Federal side of the business. 

Anthony 08:28 

And I am Anthony, Iacovetti, and I am a staging associate at CPT Network Solutions. So I  basically set up and configure like devices and other kinds of electrical equipment. 

Clare 08:46 

Anthony and Tony, thank you for being here. When you learned about this opportunity, what  was appealing to you about it? 

Tony 08:53 

Mentorships have always been a priority for me. I’ve been involved with high tech industry for  25+ years now. And every opportunity that I’ve been given to either talk with kids, students in  high school, or folks in college, or or even young adults that are new to the industry and wanting 

to figure out how do they move forward? How do they continue their their journey? So when I  saw this pop up as an opportunity within an email, I quickly jumped on it. 

Clare 09:26 

And Anthony, what about you what sparked your interest? 

Anthony 09:30 

Well, what had sparked my interest like in this was because I am actually studying for the  CompTIA A+ IT exam and to have like a better job like in the IT industry and so you know, here  was a perfect opportunity to have a foot like in the door. 

Clare 09:51 

The two of you have really gone above and beyond in terms of you know, meeting with each  other far beyond the expectations, you know, of the project and really connecting and having a  great relationship. So I’m hoping you can share a little bit about why you think, you know, the  two of you have had such success. 

Anthony 10:10 

I think that, that it’s because, you know, he’s so like, eager to help out someone, and I’m so  eager to all find that, that next step, and you know, I’m smart, and he’s smart. And, you know,  it’s just, you know, I think that it’s all that combination that is just expanding our interests more  into just like to achieve something. 

Tony 10:39 

When I first met Anthony, I, you know, we talked about, you know, who he was, what is what is what excites him, what is his interest? And that just makes things so much easier. And we have  a relationship, you know, each of us have a so called disability that we have to work through. I  don’t see anything from Anthony or talking with him that he sees that’s a limitation in any way. I  see a lot of him or like, when I was young, and I had, you know, my, my disabilities, for me, it, it  actually strengthened my my perseverance, it made me really try harder, because I knew  people when they see me for the first time, my my disability is a has to do with the way I walk.  And it’s always something that you could tell folks see that very quickly, but it’s always in the  back of my mind. And so I really try hard to be sure that, you know, the perception that I give,  the way I talk, the way I listen, is always first and foremost, because that’s a big part of forming  a type of relationships. And I see that with Anthony, there is no hesitation, as far as you know,  him wanting to work with me and me wanting to work with him, and really get to those next  steps. 

Anthony 11:59

All similar, you know, it’s, you know, again, he’s a very smart guy, and, you know, he was able  to face like, you know, his vulnerabilities, and still work through them. You know, me having  Asperger’s I see as a as a super ability, but it’s my issues come with OCD, and the anxiety  issues. And so I’m forced to also, you know, face my vulnerabilities, you know, every single day,  and it’s just both of us, who are being forced to, in the end makes you stronger. You know, so  when you’re forced to confront something, and still have the willpower to, you know, move  forward with your dreams and desires. It’s just pretty cool. And, you know, I think that you know,  me that me and Tony share that. 

Clare 12:51 

It’s really amazing to see that it was such a natural process for you both and I can hear just in  the way you’re talking about each other, that there is really like a joint empowerment. So I- I’d  love to hear maybe some self discovery examples. Is there anything that you’ve really started to  notice or appreciate about yourself in this process? 

Anthony 13:12 

Yeah, I noticed that it’s like, even though there’s the unknown, that is always coming up, I feel  more comfortable, uh, stepping into that, and just getting out of my comfort zone, and to just,  you know, still, again, to strive, and it’s becoming a more and more easier, you know. 

Tony 13:35 

I always take all these opportunities, whether I’m teaching or learning, there’s always something  to take away from it. And, you know, working with Anthony, it helps me slow down, it helps me  make sure what I’m saying makes sense, resonates. And I’m not just trying to talk things off of a  script of what I did before. Right, that doesn’t always make sense with with a new person that  I’m talking with or mentoring in this case. But it also is going to help me within my day-to-day job  as well, too, about how I work and listen with people, whether my peers, whether my boss,  whether are people that I work with, on a day-to-day basis. So, again, I love these opportunities,  it’s great. 

Clare 14:20 

When the project comes to the end, you know, do you think you’ll stay in touch? 

Tony 14:24 

So it’s gonna be an open book for me and a invitation for Anthony to contact me for whatever  reason he wants to, because my goal is to, you know, help him grow in every- any way I can, to  hopefully be successful in whatever dreams he wants. And it really gives me an opportunity not  to only teach but also reflect on all the stuff that I’ve done. You know, we forget that when you’re  working with younger folks that are doing stuff that you did 25, 30 years ago. It’s really a joy to  see how all the learnings that I’ve had all the mentors that I’ve had, have really helped shape 

me. And so it makes me feel very, very good inside that I’m now giving that same learnings to a  person, just like I was 25, 30 years ago. So thank you. 

Anthony 15:18 

Of course, you’re welcome. A similar note, it’s a thank you for providing me with, with these  opportunities, and, you know, helping me out and make my new resume and basically, to get  my name out there. So I think, just, you know, having you be there, you know, helped me like to  expand out, you know, my name, and basically like opening up new doors for me. So thank you  very much. 

Tony 15:49 

You’re welcome. Definitely. We have more to do.  

Anthony 15:52 

Oh, yeah, of course. 

Clare 15:54 

Finally, we’ll hear some of Emily’s thoughts on why companies should support employment,  through mentorship. 

Emily 16:01 

I think that mentorship is important for everyone, people with or without disabilities, especially  when you’re entering a new field or into a new job, a new position. But I also think it’s something  that should be implemented universally. I think companies don’t realize that employing people  with disabilities increases diversity in your workplace, it increases the morale on the job,  employing people with disabilities makes for a better workplace. And so I think companies,  hopefully based on what we’ve done with MOPD and Aspire and Microsoft have done, we’ll start  seeing peer mentorship as an important piece for everyone and especially people with  disabilities. 

Clare 16:41 

Thank you to my guests, Emily, Tony, and Anthony, and to Microsoft and MOPD for their  partnership. Today marks the final episode of our fourth season of Amplify Inclusion. We look  forward to bringing you all new episodes in our next season kicking off this July. Thank you for  your support and for choosing to be a part of the inclusive movement with Aspire. Please stay  connected with us at AspireChicago.com and don’t forget to rate, review, and subscribe to  Amplify Inclusion. This episode was co-produced and engineered by Subframe Sound. This  season was made possible thanks to generous support from the Fred J. Brunner Foundation  and members of the Aspire community.

S6. Ep. 4<br>Emily Voorde

Amplify Inclusion Podcast

S6. Ep. 4
Emily Voorde

It’s the 30th episode of Amplify Inclusion! Emily Voorde, Founder and CEO of INTO Strategies, reflects on her journey of… Read More

S6. Ep. 3<br>Jordyn Zimmerman

Amplify Inclusion Podcast

S6. Ep. 3
Jordyn Zimmerman

Jordyn Zimmerman, nonspeaking autistic advocate, shares her personal experience and insights on inclusion and belonging. Check out the episode now… Read More

Amplify Inclusion Podcast

S6. Ep. 2
InfiniTeach | Aliyah, Ned & Katie

Welcome to Amplify Inclusion, a podcast where we share authentic stories of inclusion in action. Aliyah Rich, Ned Williams and Katie Hench… Read More

Aspire logo
arrow up
Be Included

Get news and events information.