AFT - American Federation of Teachers

Shortcut Navigation:
Email ShareThis

Showing compassion on the job

As a disability analyst, Debi Chowdhury spends much of her time talking to people on the phone. She calls them to clarify their Social Security applications for disability through New York state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, where she has worked for 18 years. In that time, she has learned that emotions can run high on the other end of the line. “It’s challenging because a lot of times someone is really very sick, and we need to make sure that we get all the information,” says Chowdhury, whose office is responsible for determining if people qualify for benefits.

A former social worker, Chowdhury skillfully obtains the needed information. Even if people might not speak clearly, if they don’t know English well, or if they are rude because they are hurting, Chowdhury remains calm. To see each caller through the applications process, she relies on a great deal of patience as well as a strong desire to help others. At times, she suggests that callers contact support groups or call national hotlines if she thinks they need community services. Chowdhury, who works in the Albany area, knows those services well; she is a longtime volunteer in her own community.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Chowdhury came to the United States when she was 9. Her mother, who helped immigrant women in Albany, always taught the importance of giving back; Chowdhury took that lesson to heart. For more than 20 years she has volunteered with the city of Albany to help run events like family-friendly New Year’s Eve activities; with the VA hospital to talk to veterans, help plan their holiday parties,and do paperwork in the office; and with the annual Freihofer’s Run for Women where she hands out water and refreshments.

Chowdhury is the local chapter president of the National Association of Disability Examiners and she is an active member of her union, Region 8 of the New York State Public Employees Federation. She belongs to various union committees, including the black caucus, the Hispanic committee, the Indo-American group and the Caribbean American committee, and she has helped them raise funds for college scholarships and natural disasters like the tornadoes that devastated parts of Alabama in April 2010. In recognition of Chowdhury’s commitment to others, her fellow union members presented her with a 2010 Women of Merit award.

Mariruth Brown, an associate healthcare fiscal analyst in New York state’s Office of Mental Health, says the honor is well-deserved. “When I was growing up, my father said, ‘Your first duty is to your family, the second is to your community and the last is to yourself.’ Debi embodies that to me. She’s open, honest, hard-working.”

Brown also admires her friend for showing great compassion on the job. Having at one time taken leave from work to care for her parents when they became ill, Chowdhury understands firsthand the challenges that come with poor health. “She knows what those people have to go through to get any assistance,” Brown says. “So she’s very fair-minded.”