Donna Danielewski, now in her third year as GBH’s first-ever executive director of accessibility, says a sea change in attitudes about disabilities and accessibility is rippling throughout GBH. And she’s striving to make that transformation happen in public media organizations across the nation.

The country is in what she calls a “post-ADA” (Americans with Disabilities Act) era, where employees with apparent and non-apparent disabilities not only know they have certain rights, but they want to work for an organization that will take actions to honor and preserve those rights.

GBH, one of very few public media organizations to have a role like Danielewski’s, is building on its history of championing accessibility through video captioning and assistive technologies to create a culture where disability is normalized.

“Today people at GBH talk very comfortably about disability and chronic illness. There’s an openness. We’re not just funding accessibility efforts, we’re celebrating disability,” she said. “A full 26% of Americans identify as having a disability — and that number is likely higher if you roll in non-apparent disabilities, such as mental health issues and chronic illnesses.”

Donna Danielewski
Donna Danielewski
Meredith Nierman

Danielewski, who joined GBH in 2008, has devoted much of her career to accessibility, including 12 years at the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) at GBH.

Over the past year, Danielewski has focused on fostering a culture of inclusivity that can be felt and noticed inside and outside of GBH.

She’s proud that GBH has institutionalized a variety of measures, including technological enhancements for online meetings (captioning all videoconference meetings) and public events, and made public affirmations by showcasing issues such as disability pride and Autism Acceptance Month on the GBH mural over the Mass Pike. GBH also has published inclusive language guidelines and installed a ramp at the GBH Studio at the Boston Public Library. And at GBH headquarters, accessibility has been a major consideration when making decisions about lobby furniture, public restrooms, signage and lighting. “A Disability Pride Night at Fenway Park, attended by President and CEO Susan Goldberg, was a special hit,” said Danielewski.

“You're saying something about your values when you prioritize inclusivity generally and people with disabilities specifically,” she said.

As she meets with public media organizations around the country — many of whom are too small to support a position like hers — people are eager for ideas and information, especially about building more inclusive cultures within their organizations. “There’s a hunger among public media stations for more resources. I think it’s GBH’s responsibility as a public media leader to help the system more broadly,” she said. At a recent national public media conference, Danielewski offered her thoughts on "Adding the 'A' to your DEI Program: Improving the Accessibility of your Organization.”

In her efforts to integrate accessibility into broadcast and digital productions, partnerships, events and communications, she works hand in hand with Yemisi Oloruntola-Coates, GBH’s first-ever chief inclusion and equity officer. She also depends on the advice of the GBH All-Access Council, an employee council that helps Danielewski organize internal awareness events and guide her priorities and efforts.

She’s delighted that fidget spinners, gadgets that help people with focusing or relieving nervous energy, have become the most popular giveaway at GBH events. “People see fellow employees — including the CEO — walking around with them — that’s a big message.”

Learn more about accessibility at GBH here.