WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2014 —
Walk through the Pentagon and you're bound to come across highly skilled military or civilian employees with disabilities -- including the Defense Department's director of disability programs, who is legally blind.
Randy Cooper serves as the Department of Defense Director of Disability Programs. His role in the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity is to provide strategic guidance for DoD on matters pertaining to the employment of individuals with disabilities.
"We in ODMEO work in partnership with DoD components to eliminate technological, architectural and programmatic barriers, to ensure the full participation of individuals with disabilities, including veterans in our DoD workplace and programs. We strive to advance equal opportunity and inclusion for all people with disabilities throughout DoD," Cooper told DoD News in an interview to mark National Disability Employment Awareness Month. President Barack Obama set aside October as a time to recognize the significant contributions American workers with disabilities make every day.
To that end the department has even established a comprehensive disability program management course for all components at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute.
"National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a time to recognize the significant contributions American workers with disabilities make each and every day," Cooper said. “It is an opportunity for us to reaffirm DoD's commitment to recruit, retain, and advance people with disabilities throughout our workforce. It's an opportunity for us to educate ourselves to eliminate the continuing myths stereotypes and fears that still linger about us folks with disabilities.”
"It's an opportunity for us to be aware of the myths, stereotypes and fears we sometimes have about people with disabilities," he said, as well as to understand how the department can better recruit, train and advance people with disabilities.
DoD seeks to hire people with disabilities
Cooper is leading a whole-of-DoD effort to hire more people with disabilities, including troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"In fact, the president has directed us through Executive Order 13548 to increase the number of people with disabilities, including people with targeted disabilities, by up to two percent," he said. "These are individuals who have significant barriers to entering the workplace."
On Oct. 30, the department will host the 34th Annual Department of Defense Disability Awards Ceremony in the Pentagon. Twenty civilian employees and service members, as well as four exemplary DoD components, will be recognized for their work to advance a barrier-free workplace.
One resource the department taps for hiring people with disabilities is a partnership with the Department of Labor called the Workforce Recruitment Program, a recruitment and referral program for students and graduates with disabilities.
"This past year, we had over 250 participants in the [program]," he said. "Some of them became permanent DoD employees. DoD also relies on the Schedule A Hiring Authority for permanent hires of individuals with disabilities.” Both the recruitment program and the hiring Authority help the department meet its diversity and inclusion objectives, Cooper noted.
Overall, he said, the Defense Department is building on its efforts to be a model employer of people with disabilities.
"Still today, there's a great deal in the workplace -- myths, stereotypes and fears -- about hiring someone with a significant disability," Cooper said, noting that's one reason he took the job as the department's point man for disability programs.
"It just became a natural part of who I am to advocate for people with disabilities in the context of equal opportunity and civil rights" he said.
(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @SimeoneDoDNews)