Making Sandia inclusive for all

By Michael Ellis Langley

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Dalton Bradley named a 2020 Employee of the Year by CAREERS & the disABLED Magazine

Dalton Bradley
ABILITIES CHAMPION — Sandia project controller Dalton Bradley has been named a 2020 Employee of the Year by CAREERS & the disABLED Magazine for his efforts to ensure that Sandia is inclusive for all people. (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

Born with spastic cerebral palsy, Sandia project controller Dalton Bradley didn’t walk on his own until age five. Today he’s helping Sandia make strides toward greater inclusion of people with unique abilities.

Dalton has been with Sandia for six years. He started as an intern and now serves as a project controller with the W80-4 life extension program. But Dalton’s mind is firmly on also making sure Sandia is inclusive for all people. He does this through his work as a co-chair of Abilities Champions of Sandia, one of the Labs’ employee resource groups. The ACS supports individuals with disabilities and unique abilities.

In recognition of his work with the ACS, Dalton was named a 2020 Employee of the Year by CAREERS & the disABLED Magazine — one of only 10 individuals globally to receive the honor.

Dalton’s journey of living a life with spastic cerebral palsy gives him a deep connection to the work he does with ACS.

“My brain didn’t fully develop in the womb,” Dalton said. “The right side of my body has a lot less function, and my muscles and joints are a lot weaker. I tell people to imagine doing something they do multiple times a day — like unscrewing the top of a travel coffee mug — but trying to do it with only one hand.”

Helping his peers understand the importance of valuing those around them and finding strength in every individual’s unique abilities is important to Dalton.

Not defined by disability

While his first 18 years of life growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were marked by pain, surgeries and constant physical therapy, Dalton refused to let those things define him.

“A lot of my childhood memories are me in the hospital,” he said. “It had a mental impact; I can’t deny that. But I want all the things in life that everyone wants. So, I committed myself to working harder to achieve that goal.”

While at New Mexico Highlands University Business School in 2014, Dalton started his internship at Sandia. In May of 2018, Dalton made the decision to leave behind the people and community he had known all his life to move to the Labs’ Livermore, California, site. 

“I wanted to make a personal change and live somewhere new,” Dalton said about his decision. “To make a move like that, leaving my entire family and all my friends in Albuquerque, was definitely difficult. My infrastructure was there but my experience with my disability really aided me. When you live life with a disability such as mine, there are things you have to live with — and a mindset that you’re not going to be held back.”

Dalton also doesn’t hold back when it comes to advocating for people with disabilities and equality for everyone. He actively encourages Sandians to practice inclusion and celebrate our uniqueness.

“Sandia is on the right path toward inclusion, but we still have a ways to go,” he said. “Everyone that works here is very intelligent, hard-working and wants to do a good job. If we can get Sandia to a place where everyone is doing their best to include everyone on their team, the amount of work and quality of work we can do is endless, in my opinion.”

Creating opportunities for empathy

As part of his work with the ACS, he and co-chair Victoria Newton host roadshows in which they create opportunities for staff and leadership to imagine what life might look like with a disability.

“It’s our job to make sure people are seeing their value,” Dalton said. “It’s a very vulnerable position, talking about your health situation. What we try to teach — we talk a lot about being open and empathetic, creating meaningful connections; being open to the differences.”

Dalton believes that most of Sandia’s workforce members are good people who just need more understanding about those around them.

“We work with some of the most intelligent people this country has ever seen,” Dalton said. “It’s hard to stay consciously in the moment, and aware of how your tone and words can affect the people around you when your mind is going 100 miles a minute on your project. We just want to expose people to the empathy they have within them. Then think about all we can achieve when everyone is included and valued.”