S5. Ep. 4
Deputy Commissioner Christina McGleam


October 19, 2022


21 minutes


Amplify Inclusion Podcast


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

Christina McGleam, Deputy Commissioner of MOPD, shares her personal story and the groundbreaking initiatives on the horizon for MOPD. Listen now or view the full transcript below. 

Related Resources:  City of Chicago Career Center (MOPD)

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, Enterprise Fleet Management, First Bank Chicago and members of the Aspire community.

Full Transcript

Clare 00:02 

Welcome to Amplify Inclusion. I’m Clare from the nonprofit, Aspire. Thanks for joining us for  stories and conversation about disability inclusion. Today my guest is Christina McGleam,  Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Christina was  appointed by Commissioner Rachel Arfa in April of 2021. In her role as Deputy Commissioner,  she oversees MOPD’s Employment unit, Training unit, and its Youth Initiatives. As part of  MOPD’s employment work, she was charged with leading the development of MOPD’s brand  new Career Center. She also manages all City of Chicago disability related employment  initiatives, including the establishment of the City of Chicago’s first Employee Resource Group  focused on employees with disabilities and their allies. I recently spoke with Deputy  Commissioner McGleam to learn more about her story and the groundbreaking initiatives on the  horizon for MOPD. Here’s our conversation. Christina, thank you for joining me. 

Christina M 01:07 

Yes, thank you for having me. 

Clare 01:09 

So I’m thrilled to have you with me to, you know, one, talk a little bit more about your story, but  also to highlight the important work you’re doing in the community and some of these exciting  initiatives that are on the horizon for MOPD. So before we get started, I just want to note that  October is Blindness Awareness Month. And that relates directly to your personal experience,  which we’ll get to in a moment. But I think it’s important that we start our conversation today with  some visual descriptions, and take a moment to talk about why this is so important. So would  you like to start us off? 

Christina M 01:43 

Sure. Thank you. Hi, everyone. I am Christina McLean. I have blonde shoulder length hair, I am  a white woman, and I am wearing a black patterned dress. I am currently sitting in my City of 

Chicago office, which is located at City Hall. And I am pleased and excited to be here today.  Thank you. 

Clare 02:07 

Thank you, Christina. And I am a white woman with long, dark brown hair, I am wearing a grey  shirt today. And behind me is a blurred background of my office space where you can sort of  make out a bookshelf and some curtains behind me. And I’m wearing my big podcast recording  headset and built-in mic today. And our listeners don’t usually get a visual description of me  because we don’t typically provide them on the podcast, when we have events where we have  virtual meetings or in person meetings, we’re always sure to provide those visual descriptions of  ourselves. And it hasn’t really dawned on me in the past to provide them on our podcast,  because it’s a non-visual format for everybody who’s consuming it. But I do think it’s an  interesting thought to consider how it could increase visual access for everyone. People who  are blind and have low vision or anyone that’s you know, not able to get that input in would  appreciate that from a podcast experience. So I thought was important to bring it up and get  your take, Christina, on why visual descriptions are important? What kind of value does that add  when we’re trying to create an inclusive experience? 

Christina M 03:16 

Yeah, I agree. I think that visual descriptions, they allow individuals who are blind or low vision,  and individuals who may be calling in to a meeting, or just not able to really access video, give  them the ability to be on an even playing field with those who are able to see the video. It allows  people to know what environment people are in, as well as give more context around gender. If  you are referring to someone you know, in a meeting, and you need to give some context to  gender or he/she, it allows you to have a better understanding of that and not just assume  based on voice. 

Clare 04:00 

That’s a great point. Yes, thank you so many reasons. And it’s sort of the curb cut theory, right?  It’s one of those other examples, we think about something that benefits so many people for so  many reasons. So I appreciate calling some attention to that and modeling that with me today.  So let’s continue on and I want to jump right into your personal story and background. So, you  know, I know obviously we’ve mentioned that you are the Deputy Commissioner of MOPD, you  have a variety of experiences throughout your career and your personal life. And I I’d love for  you to just kind of tell us a little bit more about who you are and your personal and professional  journey that led you to this point. 

Christina M 04:37 

Yes, thank you. I grew up in Cortland, Ohio, which is about an hour and a half from Cleveland.  And was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, which is a juvenile form of macular degeneration,  when I was 10 so in about third grade. So what this condition does is creates blind spots in my 

central vision. And I don’t think at 10, I really realized how my visual impairment would impact  my independence or my ability to find a job. I had a great support system in my family and  friends who, you know, were- are still my biggest cheerleaders, but really provided the support I  needed to think that, and know that I could do whatever I needed. I still look back on my first job  as a waitress at a local pizza restaurant, because I think it was probably one of the most  important ones I had. It really allowed me to do what all my friends were doing, have the  confidence to know that I could work. I did need to make some adjustments to how I was doing  that job. But, I learned how to advocate for myself, I learned how to make minor adjustments  that allowed me to be successful. And I look back, and it’s just really been, you know, one of the  most fun jobs I had, but also, you know, it played a huge role in my confidence moving forward.  And- and that’s part of the reason why I’m really passionate about the work that we’ve done at  MOPD around youth employment, because I know what that can do for someone’s career path.  I wasn’t ready as a college freshman to move to Chicago, but I knew that’s where I wanted to  be. I had come here as a sophomore in high school with my family. And I knew that one day I  wanted to live in Chicago, but I wasn’t ready as a freshman. So I went to John Carroll University,  which is outside of Cleveland. And there I- instead of Chicago, I went to London, and studied  abroad there. And I think there it really emphasized the big city life that I knew that I would  benefit from. It allowed me to travel independently, and just get a better sense of all the things I  could do on my own if I had a public transit system that was reliable and accessible. So after  graduation, I moved to Chicago in 2008. To get my master’s, I went to Roosevelt University and  studied Human Resource Management there. And there, you know, a lot of you know, great  things in terms of my career came from that move. And from my connection with the Chicago  Lighthouse. I started as an intern and worked in a couple different departments, and then  eventually got connected with a position at Exelon corporation, which was in their HR  department, which made me very excited that I was able to use my education in a big corporate  setting like that. And from there, I knew that there was again, an opportunity at the lighthouse to  be a job placement counselor, which really combined, you know, my education and my personal  experiences as someone with a disability. And I wasn’t there long before I heard about the  opportunity here at MOPD to serve as Commissioner Tamley’s executive assistant. And I  served in that role for about seven years and really had the opportunity to fall in love more with  Chicago, fall in love more with city government, and learn about all the great things and all the  potential that there is for me and my colleagues to help make this city more accessible. So I did  that for a while and worked under Commissioner Arfa as her assistant for a short period of time,  before she promoted me to Deputy Commissioner. I have so much respect for her in the faith  that she has put in me and the trust that she has put in me to have several responsibilities here.  And I am excited to keep going and keep working hard because I know that there’s a lot of work  to do and a lot of people who would benefit from the work that we do. 

Clare 08:50 

I love that you have this unique combination of experiences that, based on what we know about  your role, very much inform the work that you’re doing from that lived experience perspective,  which is so important, and I can see how passionate you are just in the way you talk about it. I  think it’s interesting that in addition to being Blindness Awareness Month, October is also  National Disability Employment Awareness Month. And this is also incredibly fitting, because  your work is directly related to advancing those employment opportunities for people with 

disabilities in the City of Chicago. So let’s move into talking more about what that looks like. I’d  love to have you just share more about in this role of Deputy Commissioner- what does this job  entail? And what are some of those priorities of yours when we’re thinking about advancing  employment opportunities? 

Christina M 09:43 

Yes, of course, my role as Deputy, I have the opportunity to oversee a couple of different of our  units, but all really focusing on the independence of people with disabilities. Employment being  one that I’ve always been very passionate about. I oversee our employment initiatives, including  our new career center, which I’m very excited about, as well as the work we do within the City of  Chicago to make sure that it’s an inclusive environment, and that we are trying our best to  make, you know, city jobs accessible to the public. I also have the opportunity to oversee our  Training unit, which gives disability awareness and etiquette training to other city departments,  and public and private organizations throughout the city. And a lot of that is not necessarily  focused just towards employment, it’s focused more towards awareness. But it does play a  huge role in building inclusive work environments for people with disabilities. I think that every  time that training is given people come up with things that they’ve never thought about before.  And it’s really helpful to get those conversations going. I also oversee, and this is more recent,  but our Disability Resource unit, which is really important, because those services play a huge  role in helping someone even become job ready. It’s hard to get a job and be successful in it if  you don’t have housing, if you don’t have food. So the purpose of me really overseeing these  units is to make sure that everybody’s on the same page. There’s no silos, which is typical. And  you know, a lot of government settings, a commissioner arpha has really done a great job of  trying to make sure that everyone gets the full gamut of services that they may need to be  independent. 

Clare 11:38 

And the most exciting on the horizon is this brand new Career Center, which is a huge step  forward for the City of Chicago and just want to take a moment to acknowledge the work that  yourself, Commissioner Arfa, and MOPD has put into making this happen and the Career  Center is opening soon. So first off, just tell us a little bit about where it’ll be located. And then  we can get into a little bit more about what people can expect from the Career Center. 

Christina M 12:06 

Yes, Mayor Lightfoot announced the opening of the Career Center in July, July 26th, actually  the 32nd anniversary of the ADA. And since July, we have been providing services, but they  have been mostly virtual, as we are building out a brand new space at our Central West  location, which is ad 2102 West Ogden. We’re doing renovations there. And that space will be  open in October. And we are really excited for everyone to come out and check it out. I know  that we will most likely have some event that you know acknowledges the opening of that  Career Center because it is a huge step for the city and for our department. But we are excited  to see the space and have people physically be there.

Clare 12:51 

Yes, very exciting looking forward to that this fall. And you know, while we’re eagerly awaiting  the brand new facility, let’s go a little bit back in time, and hopefully you can help us better  understand when this idea first came about and what sort of information, data did we know  about employment in the city that really informed this as a good response? 

Christina M 13:15 

Yes, Commissioner Arfa was appointed in July of 2020. And from that time, she had started to  receive calls from employers asking if MOPD had individuals with disabilities that wanted to  work. And this continued, we had received a lot of calls from employers and really dug down  deep and started to do some data searching of these numbers. I mean, we were very aware of  the fact that people with disabilities were not as employed as highly as those without disabilities.  The number in Chicago is about 20% of people with disabilities are employed compared to  about 64% of people without disabilities. So we really used that data and the fact that employers  were reaching out to us for clients for employees as a way to pitch this Career Center to Mayor  Lightfoot and her team and received so much support from her administration to fulfill this idea,  this commitment that we have to Chicagoans. 

Clare 14:24 

So what kinds of activities can we expect to see happening both virtually, in-person within the  career center that’s really going to support people in connecting with those opportunities and  creating those pathways to employment? 

Christina M 14:38 

So we were lucky enough to, you know, not only get the funding to support this, you know,  brand new physical space but also to hire on several new staff. We hired a Program Director in  March, Lauren Huberman, who has been a amazing partner in developing this career center.  Her experience has provided a lot of support and ideas. And we’re really excited to have her a  part of the MOPD team. We also hired four new Career Placement Counselors- Will, Carly,  Jeanie, and Johanna, and we soon will have an ASL interpreter on staff. So we are so lucky to  have, you know, these individuals as part of our team. We plan to have several different types of  events- small group events, large group hiring events, networking opportunities, we’ve had  connections, you know, with some employers before the Career Center was open, and now that  we are opening, we are starting to build those pathways more and look forward to having the  space to do more things in person, because we have seen that that is, you know, an asset. We  understand that that might not be possible for everybody. So we’re really lucky to have these  virtual options, but are really excited to get everybody together and really focus on getting  people jobs.

Clare 16:02 

You know, I envision it being very much a hub, you know, where all these connections can  really be made, and where you can further support your goal of raising awareness about the  barriers and creating solutions to that. So it’s really exciting. I’m interested to know, for those  that are listening, that may be a person with a disability, themselves, what are some ways that  individuals might utilize or access the Career Center services to help them meet their own  personal life goals? 

Christina M 16:30 

I think you said it perfectly Clare, like that’s what we want to do is serve as another resource.  We know that there are a lot of great resources in the Chicago area. But we just want to serve  as an additional resource for Chicagoans. We serve Chicagoans with disabilities who are at  least 16 years old, and identify as having a disability. We don’t require any documentation or  paperwork. But we do ask that they identify as having a disability, our goal is to really reduce  barriers, and take the time to have an accessible approach to our career placement. And this  really means goal setting as well. It’s important that the people that we serve, understand that  they are capable of achieving their goals. And it sometimes just takes some time. And it also  takes some executive functioning skills, it takes some developing in terms of really mapping out  what is needed in order to accomplish that, and letting the individual decide if that’s what they  want. 

Clare 17:34 

And we’re excited to continue being you know, partners with MOPD. And there’s already been  so many examples of really impactful partnerships before this brick and mortar facility is even in  place. So I can only imagine the possibilities with all of these final pieces coming together. 

Christina M 17:51 

Yes, absolutely. 

Clare 17:53 

So what are your calls to action for the community? What are some things you’d really like to be  takeaways for people that are tuning in today? 

Christina M 18:02 

You know, I think it’s really important to have an idea of what you’re looking for, we definitely  want to support you and your career journey. And that could take a variety of different paths. But  what is really helpful for us is to have an idea of what you want and be a partner in helping you  get there. For employers, we all know that people with disabilities are a reliable and hardworking  group of people who want to work, who want to support your organization, and be a really  successful part of that company. So I encourage you to reach out to me, I’d love to foster a 

relationship with you and learn ways that we can partner together to increase disability  employment to increase inclusion, whether that be with some of our clients, or just within your  own organization make that more inclusive for the people who are already there with disabilities. 

Clare 19:00 

I’d love to know, what excites you most when you’re looking to the future and thinking about the  possibilities for change between the Career Center, the other important initiatives that your team  is doing- what’s really energizing you? 

Christina M 19:16 

That’s a great question. I think what’s important is that organizations and people in those roles  that have the ability to serve the public, in any sense, take a step back and see the full picture of  that individual. And I think one of the most exciting things is knowing that what we’re doing at  MOPD is really trying to get at the needs of individuals to make sure that they’re successful in all  different phases of their lives. Like I said before, there are a lot of basic needs that you need in  order to be successful on the job or to be a reliable employee. But those things also make you  more independent and more successful in life in general, not everybody wants to work. Not  everybody is, you know, interested in working full time. But there’s a lot of opportunities out  there for people. And I’m excited that we can play a role in helping people be more independent. 

Clare 20:21 

Wonderful. Well, so many exciting things ahead. This is a big fall for the city of Chicago for  MOPD, and for the disability community and the things on the horizon to really make  employment connections. So thank you for all the work that you’re doing and for your  partnership, and thanks for joining me today. It’s a pleasure. 

Christina M 20:39 

Well, thank you and Happy National Disability Employment Awareness Month and happy  Blindness Awareness Month.  

Clare 20:45 


Christina M 20:45 

And it has been great to be here with you today, Clare, I appreciate it.

Clare 20:50 

Thank you to my guest, Deputy Commissioner McGleam. Join us next time for my conversation  with Liz Davis, a User Experience Designer with a passion for Accessible Technology. Until  then, stay connected with us at AspireChicago.com and be a part of the inclusive movement by  rating and subscribing to Amplify Inclusion. This episode was co-produced and engineered by  Subframe Sound. This season is made possible thanks to generous support from the Fred J.  Brunner Foundation, Enterprise Fleet Management, First Bank Chicago, and members of the  Aspire community.

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