October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities and showcasing supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices that benefit employers and employees. This year’s theme is "Advancing Access and Equity" and NCCDD Council Member Brendon Hildreth is a shining example of that philosophy. Join us in celebrating NDEAM by reading about Brendon’s success of finding meaningful employment while advancing access and equity.
Brendon Hildreth has been a member of the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities (NCCDD) since 2016 representing Craven County. He is a prime example of finding success through opportunities. Through his advocacy with NCCDD and other accessibility initiatives, he has proven that he has a gift to help advocate and not let himself be seen as a person with a disability; instead he prefers to be seen as a person who needs accommodations. And that passion has led him to a career in advocating for others with disabilities with the North Carolina Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS). So how did he get there? First, you need to know a little more about Brendon.
Brendon is no stranger to advocacy and one of his biggest achievements is his involvement with the Accessible Icon Project. The goal of the Project is to advocate for the use of an updated version of the old, outdated accessibility symbol into a more active and engaging picture meant to show that people with disabilities can be active, engaged and independent in their communities.
Through Brendon’s advocacy efforts, he was successful getting the new accessible icon approved for use in the State of NC. And he was successful in getting his hometown of New Bern to be the first city in the State to adopt the icon.
Since then, many businesses, towns, schools and colleges in NC have adopted the icon and more importantly, its message. He's excited that people are recognizing the message. Just recently, he learned that not only has East Carolina University adopted the icon, but also, through the help of a graduate student, she has put it on the Miracle Field in Wilmington NC and will be approaching the City of Greenville and other NC universities to adopt the icon and its message.
Brendon was also able to get the City of New Bern to make its City Hall more accessible. He served on a committee about how to make City Hall more accessible because he couldn't get into the building using his wheelchair. The City of New Bern is almost done installing an elevator, and rumor has it, Brendon has been promised the first ride!
He likes to educate and advocate. “It's very easy to complain,” said Brendon. “But I like to point out an issue and also try to come up with a solution.”
In 2022, Brendon graduated from North Carolina University with a 3.4 grade point average. Around the same time, he was approached by Kathie Trotter, Division Director for DVRS about an internship position. They knew each other through NCCDD and she was familiar with his success as an advocate with the Accessible Icon Project. He accepted the offer and began his responsibilities as an intern which included educating about the Accessible Icon Project, helping with requests through DVRS’ emails from people in NC in need of services, assisting the Division Director on projects and more. While working with emails from clients he was able to come up with a process to streamline the requests so that DVRS field offices would get to them quicker and therefore clients would get services quicker. It was well received and adopted by DVRS.
Because of Brendon’s accomplishments during an internship, he was offered a permanent position with DVRS. He is a Disability Peer Consultant and his responsibilities include continuing to educate about the Accessible Icon Project, while working with each DVRS field office throughout the state to adopt the message of the new accessible icon.
“This role is new for me, so I’m still learning,” said Brendon. “I’m looking forward to showing people that I am capable and willing to do a job. I want to help others find jobs and most importantly, tell others what DVRS can offer.”
He said that he has experience with this because he asked “a bazillion questions” while he was applying for services in the DVRS system. He experienced a lot of frustration along the way and he wants to help others not to have to navigate the hard way.
Currently, he is being trained to be a peer mentor and will work with people with disabilities and be a liaison between DVRS and people looking for a job. He has a unique perspective as both a person with a disability and an employee of DVRS. When asked what he likes best about his job, he said he enjoys being seen and respected as a peer in his work environment and enjoys meeting new workers and having them value and seek his input.
According to his mother Darcy, Brendon was never brought up as a person with a disability. “It sounds funny, but we just brought him up with an ‘everyone has stuff happen’ viewpoint. We believe as a family that everyone has a gift to share and you need to find yours and share it. He believes in equity, not equality. Everyone gets what they need, not the same.”
Brendon is living proof of that philosophy.