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Disability Employment Awareness Month Month focuses on talent, strength of disabled employees

By Joel C. Guenther | | October 23, 2008

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In 1945, Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year, “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word, “physically,” was dropped from the declaration in an attempt to recognize others with various non-physical disabilities.

In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and renamed the event “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.”

President George W. Bush recently said in his proclamation in dedication of the month, “We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that our nation’s promise extends to all of our citizens.”

Bush added, “By expanding employment opportunities and fighting false perceptions that hinder people living with disabilities from joining the workforce, we can uphold America’s moral values, strengthen our economy and make America a more hopeful place.”

In referencing the month-long occurrence, the Department of Veterans Affairs, on their website, www.va.gov, reported that they employ “3,789 people with targeted disabilities, many of them veterans.” The VA reported, “They are an essential part of our workforce and have demonstrated excellence in executive, administrative, managerial and technical fields.”

This year’s theme is, “America’s People … America’s Talent … America’s Strength.”

Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector and in state and local governments. Congress found that “some 43 million Americans have one or more physical or mental disabilities and this number is increasing as the population as a whole is growing older.” The Act emphasized, “Historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem. 

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office manages six special emphasis programs including the Disability Employment Awareness Program. These programs were established to address concerns and low representation of civilian minorities, women and individuals with disabilities within the Department of Defense.

Deborah Faulkner serves as the Equal Employment Opportunity Manager, Civilian Human Resources Southeast. Barbara Whaley serves as Equal Employment Specialist, CHRO-SE, and manages the Disability Employment Awareness Program.

Faulkner said that most federal employment practices as they relate to people with disabilities originated from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. She added that, since then, other executive orders have been issued and “other changes will become effective in January 2009.”

Whaley said the primary focus, in accordance with DoD regulations, of this program is, “Hiring, placement and advancement of individuals with disabilities to include providing reasonable accommodations and protections against discrimination.”

Whaley and Faulkner said that a disability, as defined within regulations, is either physical or mental. This means the disability must substantially limit one or more of a person’s life activities such as walking, impact one of the senses or affect breathing, learning or several other activities that people perform regularly. The categories of targeted disabilities within the federal government include, but are not limited to, “deafness, blindness, missing extremities and paralysis.”

Whaley said Disability Employment Awareness Month “is all about cultural and educational awareness as well as appreciation. Individuals with disabilities have the ability to work, they want to work and they can work. Furthermore, they must be qualified to perform the duties of the position.”

In terms of the awareness component of this program, Whaley promoted the availability of Schedule A which allows the “direct hire” of some categories of people with disabilities, thereby shortening the recruitment cycle.

Whaley also called the Disability Employment Awareness Month a “tool” that can be used to break down the barriers that hinder the hiring of people with disabilities.

She called it “educational awareness.”

She concluded, “The more education a person has about people with disabilities, the more informed they are and the more those barriers slowly go away.”


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