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Helping out

Edward Nelson heads up 3M's disability committee

ME Nelson and his colleagues are "advocates for people." They're helping 3M implement some impressive assistive solutions


DAC's Edward Nelson, left, Danna Erickson, Byron Meyer, Vicki Martin and Paul Davies.

DAC's Edward Nelson, left, Danna Erickson, Byron Meyer, Vicki Martin and Paul Davies.

'I joined 3M's disability advisory committee (DAC) because I saw some things that could be better and I wanted to help," says Edward Nelson, who now chairs the committee. Nelson has cervical dystonia, a rare neurological disorder which causes severe cramping in his neck muscles.

The 3M committee helps company employees with disabilities. As its members work together, they raise awareness among others and themselves, too. They've helped the company broaden its inclusion of workers with disabilities of all kinds.

DAC's twenty members include employees who are blind, have low vision, are hard of hearing or deaf, have suffered a stroke, have muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis, or are amputees. Some have family members with disabilities. Others are simply supportive folks who want to make a difference.

"One of the reasons I joined was to represent my disorder in the group, but it's turned out to be much more than that," Nelson says. "We're advocates for people with all kinds of disabilities. It's important for us to really listen and follow where the needs are and see what we can do to help."

ME at 3M
3M (St. Paul, MN) is a diversified technology company with a worldwide presence in many markets, including consumer, office supply, graphics, communications, healthcare, industrial and more. Various components of the global enterprise cooperate in R&D;, manufacturing and marketing.

Nelson is an ME in 3M's facilities engineering organization. He's responsible for building and remodeling projects in several business units at 3M locations across the country. He has worked at 3M for twenty-five years; he joined DAC seven years ago and has chaired the group for the past four.

His cervical dystonia was diagnosed thirteen years ago. He gets botox injections every three months to alleviate the symptoms.

Advisor and resource
Founded in 1991, the DAC is one of nine employee resource groups at 3M. All groups are sponsored and funded by the workforce diversity branch of 3M's human resources organization.

The DAC's mission is to be an advisor and resource for 3M employees, their families and even the community. The group is concerned with issues like accessibility, accommodations, awareness, education and recruitment.

Some of the help they offer is simple and direct. For example, an employee who flew in from another plant needed a scooter to get around, and DAC arranged for one. Another employee whose son had a mental illness was referred to an appropriate support group.

Emergency accommodations
Other tasks, like an emergency evacuation plan, are much more complex. DAC worked with 3M's safety department and the local fire department to set up an emergency evacuation plan for employees with disabilities at 3M's corporate HQ. That involved identifying employees who needed help and figuring out what kind of help they needed.

Now, in addition to audible signals and voice instructions, the facility has strobe lights and pagers to alert hearing-impaired employees to emergencies. State-of-the-art stair chairs help those with mobility problems. A buddy system was worked out to back up all the technology.

"It resulted in a really comprehensive plan," Nelson says.

The DAC has made additional efforts to accommodate employees who are hard-of-hearing. For example, corporate auditoriums are being wired for RF assistive listening devices to be used during meetings by those who need them. "People with hearing loss are just amazed," says Nelson. "It's not going to be a cure-all, but we're hoping people will give it a try."

Raising awareness
The DAC also works to raise awareness of disabilities in the employee population. Each year they arrange a disability awareness month event in October. Last year they brought in a speaker who addressed hidden disabilities.

The event also included a presentation by the Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights (PACER, a national organization based in Minnesota). The speaker discussed disability etiquette and sensitivity.

The DAC also helps with a disability mentoring day for students with disabilities. The committee is exploring the idea of recruiting college students with disabilities for summer internships, and of course providing needed assistive technology on the job. "We're working with a number of different colleges," Nelson says. "It's an ongoing project."

Finally, DAC participates in the Minnesota business leadership network. This employer-led endeavor enhances employment opportunities for skilled candidates with disabilities. The 3M committee serves as a resource for people and outside agencies.

"The focus needs to be on ability, not disability," Nelson says. "Employees with disabilities are a key and valuable part of 3M's diverse workforce."


- Kate Colborn and Christine Heinrichs

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