October 19, 2022
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Christina M 20:45
And it has been great to be here with you today, Clare, I appreciate it.
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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