Officials stress importance of hiring disabled vets

By David Egner: Military Health System

WASHINGTON —Federal officials are taking action to reverse years of decline in the percentage of people with disabilities in the federal workforce, speakers said at a March 5 training session held to prepare for a Federal Hiring Event for People and Veterans with Disabilities scheduled for April.

The percentage of people with severe disabilities employed by the federal government has fallen steadily in recent years, dropping from 1.24 percent in 1994 to 0.88 percent in 2008, said Jo Linda Johnson, director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Training and Outreach Division. Many more people with disabilities are willing and able to make important contributions working for the federal government, she said.

Nearly 600 human resource staff members and managers from throughout the federal government spent the day hearing from Johnson and other speakers at a session to prepare them to select approximately 500 people with disabilities to come to the hiring event April 26 in Washington D.C. for job interviews for positions in 43 federal agencies.

People with disabilities can submit resumes seeking interviews at the April 26 hiring event by going to www.USAJOBS.gov and clicking on “Special Hiring Events.” An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 people with disabilities are expected to submit resumes, said Angela Bailey, deputy associate director for recruitment and diversity at the Office of Personnel Management. She said people with disabilities and organizations serving them are being notified by e-mail and other means about the April 26 hiring event.

The March 5 training session was organized by representatives with the Department of Defense Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, or CAP; the Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy; and OPM.

CAP officials have provided and funded accommodations for more than 85,000 employees with disabilities in 66 federal agencies over the past 20 years, said CAP Director Dinah Cohen, and the average accommodation costs only $500.

Speakers at the March 5 training session emphasized the importance of hiring more veterans along with other people with disabilities.

“This program is one small way we can say ‘thank you for your service’” to veterans, said OPM Director John Berry.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans Employment and Training Raymond Jefferson, a retired Army officer who lost all the fingers on his left hand when a defective hand grenade exploded in 1995, said numerous studies have shown veterans are among the top employees of any organization.

Jefferson and other speakers said federal hiring officials and other employers need to focus on what people with disabilities can do, not on what they can’t do.

“It’s not about what you’re missing, it’s about what you can do with what you’ve got,” Jefferson said. He described how he had surprised a doctor who told him immediately after his injury that he would never do push-ups again. Jefferson said he did 108 push-ups and passed his Army physical training test with flying colors a few months later.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathleen Martinez, who is blind, said hiring people with disabilities is not just “the right thing to do” but also “the economically sound thing to do” because it enables society to take advantage of the abilities of all people.

“Fear, misconception and antiquated stereotypes remain the biggest obstacles before us,” Martinez said. She said that when traveling and encountering strangers, many are surprised to learn that she has a job, automatically assuming that a blind person cannot work.

The April 26 hiring event is one of several initiatives announced in October by President Obama to ensure fair and equal access to employment for people with disabilities.