Boeing

Kirsti Melby

Kirsti Melby image

Project Manager, P-8

Kirsti Melby had retinoblastoma as a baby. The treatment for this type of eye cancer required the removal of one eye and caused legal blindness in her remaining eye.

When she first came to Boeing 14 years ago, she was sensitive and secretive about her vision. Then one day, she said, something switched in her heart and in her head.

“I realized I should be proud of where I am. I can own my disability as part of my identity but not something which defines me, and I can ask for what I need to level the playing field,” Kirsti said. “By recognizing my impairment instead of trying to hide it, I was able to demand the respect I deserve, and I was able to identify key tools I required to empower me to execute at a very high level.”

As a project manager for the Systems Engineering and Integration team on the P-8 program, Kirsti manages the process for contractually compliant delivery of jets and kits as well as mechanisms through a partnership between Boeing engineering and contracts teams, the customer and the Defense Contracts Management Agency. She also recovers funds withheld at the time of jet delivery in order to increase Boeing’s cash flow and reduce the cost of lost opportunities because of withheld dollars.

“Much of the scope I manage now was given to me because I have proven I can take on new projects without direction or much guidance,” Kirsti said. “I am known as someone who will ‘get it done’ and will tirelessly solve a problem.”

Kirsti works to empower other employees to be inclusive as well. She said National Disability Employment Awareness Month gives all of us a chance to be proud — proud of what we have overcome, proud of our career accomplishments and proud of a special compassion we get to bring to the table.

Tamika Grandy

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Executive Assistant/Chief of Staff

Tamika Grandy is chief of staff for the deputy director of the Space and Launch program. In her 14-year career at Boeing, with all of the opportunities that have come her way, she said the achievement she is the most proud of is becoming an advocate for people with disabilities.

Tamika has fibromyalgia and a double leg injury that limits her ability to walk.

“I want people to be able to understand that disabilities aren’t always visible; some are invisible,” she said. “Although I have both visible and invisible disabilities, it’s the invisible disabilities that usually cause me the most pain and trouble.”

As a result, Tamika tries to educate others about disabilities. This year she took a trip with her mother, who is Hard of Hearing, and wore a mask with a clear front — one made specifically for people who are Deaf or partially Deaf — so she could communicate with her.

When boarding the airplane, Tamika and her mother were both asked to remove their clear masks and replace them with opaque disposable masks.

“I explained to the boarding agent what the masks were for and that I would not be able to hear my mom speaking,” Tamika said. “My mom was scared and complied, but I stood my ground for two reasons: I was not in violation of any of the airline’s mask rules, as there was not a valve on my mask nor was there any mesh. Secondly, I will always stand for what’s right for people with disabilities and educate others.”

Jonathan Stephens

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Information Security Specialist

Jonathan Stephens has worked at Boeing for 25 years. Currently, he is part of the Information Security Policy and Compliance team helping to ensure programs and employees are compliant with the company’s information security policies.

Jonathan said he is proud of his tenured career at Boeing.

“Boeing is a great company and seeks diversity. I am very proud I was able to obtain my MBA through Boeing’s education assistance program, and I enjoy helping Boeing be compliant.”

Jonathan has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a form of muscular dystrophy, and uses a wheelchair for mobility.

“Although I am physically challenged, I do not let it stop me from what I want to accomplish,” he said. “My physical challenges do not bother me. It is what it is. I want others to treat me like they would treat everyone.

“We all have challenges; mine is just visual,” he added. “A person’s only roadblock is themselves.”

Jonathan’s advice is to not let challenges get in the way of accomplishments.

Donna DeFreece

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Human Resources Generalist

In 2020, Donna DeFreece received the HR Excellence Award for her involvement in Vice President Inclusion training.

Donna has low vision and has struggled with accessibility.

“At the beginning, I kept it to myself, because I feared it would be career limiting,” Donna said. “However, my leadership team worked with me, emboldened me to ask for what I need, and now I am an advocate for others who may still be fearful to come forward.”

Donna has worked for Boeing for more than 15 years. She currently works in Human Resources, supporting Facilities & Asset Management teams within Enterprise Services.

“I have supported or led diversity councils throughout my career and most recently became the co-chair for SoCal Boeing Employees Ability Awareness Association (BEAAA),” Donna said.

In this role, she leads events on low vision, participates on an Accessible Virtual Meetings panel and continues to share about low vision in multiple venues.

“Because I have been outspoken, I am finding that people are beginning to reach out with numerous different opportunities to educate, and I appreciate the opportunity to do so,” Donna said. “I believe that sharing my story builds awareness, which in turn resonates with individuals for their personal story.”

Olivia Halvorson

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Cost/Schedule Analyst,
Boeing Global Services

Olivia Halvorson came to Boeing two years ago and immediately became involved with the Boeing Employees Ability Awareness Association (BEAAA) Business Resource Group, where she currently serves as chair of the Mesa, Arizona, chapter.

“I have learned a variety of lessons about leadership, advocacy and disabilities, and it means everything to me that I can play a role in the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives,” Olivia said.

Olivia is an ally. While she does not have a disability, she grew up with someone who does.

“My brother, Ben, has Down syndrome, and it has always been important to our family that he feels included and worthy of friendships and opportunities,” Olivia said. “Being a sister to Ben meant that at a very young age, I was already explaining to my friends that people with disabilities are cool.”

These days she’s still telling people how cool people with disabilities are, and BEAAA has provided a platform in which to do so by bringing in guest speakers, hosting demonstrations and giving a space to teach about inclusion.

“National Disability Employment Awareness Month highlights the value of allowing people with disabilities to do meaningful work, but it also underscores the challenges that people with disabilities encounter in the world,” Olivia said. “For 22 years, I have watched Ben navigate his life, and I’ve learned that society can be very impatient and unforgiving to people with disabilities.”

When Olivia began her career at Boeing, she decided she wanted her workplace to be somewhere Ben would be welcome, which is why she pursued a leadership position in BEAAA.

“Over the past few years, the meaning of NDEAM has become very personal to me, and it encourages me to reflect on what we can do to better elevate and advocate for people like my brother,” Olivia said. “By empowering people to share their passions and stories, it generates understanding and helps bring everyone into the picture.”

Chris Jeckel

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Senior Benefits Specialist,
Global Financial Benefits

Chris Jeckel is part of the team responsible for creating new programs to improve Boeing employees’ financial well-being worldwide. He is also part of a team ensuring Boeing aircraft provide a more accessible flying experience for all passengers.

Chris is legally Blind and is proud of the contributions he is making in the aircraft accessibility space.

“I’m currently teaming up with the company’s best engineers on a set of design recommendations for airline customers — identifying inexpensive tweaks to the cabin to make flying more accessible,” Chris said

For Chris, this work is not new. He has been advocating for disability rights for more than a decade.

“National Disability Employment Awareness Month is always a great time to reflect on what we have accomplished in terms of equity while also renewing our focus on the work ahead,” Chris said.

Kim Baker

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Product Data Management Specialist,
Boeing Defence UK

Kim Baker works on the Wedgetail (E7) and C-17 Synthetic Training Systems at Boeing Defence UK. Although National Disability Employment Awareness Month is celebrated across the United States, Boeing inclusion efforts are global, and Kim just helped launch the Boeing Employees Ability Awareness Association (BEAAA) Europe chapter.

Kim has had hearing loss since she was a teenager, and it went undiagnosed for a very long time.

“I spent years feeling embarrassed,” Kim said. “Working at Boeing has changed this — I’m now very outspoken about hearing loss and disability awareness.”

In the United Kingdom, Kim’s hearing loss doesn’t qualify as a disability. As a result, she tries to educate people whenever it is appropriate and credits BEAAA for giving her an opportunity to advocate for others.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also infused its own set of challenges.

“Without even realizing it, most people with sight lip-read,” Kim explained. “Taking away that ability means it’s been even more difficult to understand conversations than usual, and getting people to understand that I can’t hear them when they’re wearing a mask has definitely been a big challenge.”

Anthony Anderson

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Engineering Manager,
Payloads Core and Flammability

Anthony Anderson is a 30-year Boeing employee. Anthony, who has paraplegia and uses a wheelchair, said the career achievement he is most proud of is being part of the design team that enabled Boeing twin-aisle airplanes to be accessible for reduced mobility.

“This awareness month emphasizes that people with a disability in various forms still desire to contribute and strive as employees,” Anthony said. “Individuals with disabilities have a unique and creative mindset, as they have to continually overcome challenges to live life. The ability to overcome challenges provides a unique perspective to solve problems and innovate the future.”

Anthony uses his problem-solving abilities as an engineering manager helping the Payloads engineering community maintain and develop tools and software to drive better quality throughout the engineering process. He has received several patents for his work on airplane designs.

“I celebrate my disability by being part of everyday life and helping others with disabilities understand the realm of the possibility,” Anthony said. “I continue to challenge people to explore what biases they may have, so they can move past them, to better understand other people’s perspectives, contributions and needs.”