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Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Cossy Hough

image of Cossy HoughIn her Foundations of Social Justice class, Cossy Hough takes her students through various political and social issues impacting the field of social work. Of all the topics she addresses, Hough is especially passionate about disability rights and advocacy.

About 20 years ago, Hough was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, an autoimmune disease that causes an inflammation around the spinal cord. For a short period of time she was paralyzed from the waist down, but with time and physical therapy she regained the ability to walk again.

She’s open to sharing her story to help students and colleagues better understand the disability community and, in some cases, explore their self-identity.

“I didn’t identify as a person with a disability until about nine years ago,” says Hough, who is a clinical associate professor and assistant dean for undergraduate programs in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. “However you identify yourself at any time is very important. Even if you don’t identify with this community, it’s good to know your limitations and to make sure you are getting your needs met.”

Although Hough has been navigating work and life with a disability for many years, she admits that she’s still a work in progress. She wants her students to know that they, too, will experience personal setbacks along their academic journey and beyond.

“I have a tendency to overcompensate,” Hough adds. “If there’s something I feel I can do, I’m going to volunteer to do it. I want my presence known and to show that I’m capable of following through. It’s hard to find that line when I’m doing more work so I’m not seen as a person with a disability, or if I’m doing just enough.”

Hough is currently in talks with staff at Services for Students with Disabilities about providing additional support for students who are about to enter the professional world.

“I hope we can do more to support students and highlight the need for them to know their rights around employment and how to talk about their disabilities in a professional environment,” Hough adds.

Passionate about setting her students up for success, Hough urges them all to practice the fine art of self-care. This skill, she notes, is integral for those who plan on dedicating their lives toward helping others.

“The first thing I tell students who are hesitant about seeking accommodations is that self-care is a very important part of social work,” Hough says. “I tell them, ‘You may not need an accommodation now, but what if you’ll need it later?’ Also, this is what we would tell our clients to do.”

Portrait by Martin do Nascimento