DoD Kicks Off National Disability Employment Awareness Month
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2003 Born with no hands and no legs, John Kemp wants to educate and inform people about what his life is like.
"When I offer my artificial arm to shake hands with people, people are kind of thrown off a bit, they don't know what to grab," Kemp said. "People don't know how to shake my hand."
John Kemp, a lawyer and expert on disability issues, was the guest speaker Oct. 15 during the Pentagon's observance on National Disability Mentoring Day. The event, held at the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, was part of the Defense Department's celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The theme for the month-long observance is "America Works Best When All Americans Work."
Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Kemp, a lawyer and expert on disability issues, was the guest speaker today for the DoD's observance of National Disability Mentoring Day. The event, held in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, was part of the Defense Department's celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The theme for the month-long observance is "America Works Best When All Americans Work."
Kemp talked about what it's like to live with disabilities and to address what he calls the "disability culture" that is, those barriers that hinder independent, fulfilling living for those with disabilities.
"Disability culture can exist and does exist," he said. "It is not simply the experience of oppression. We don't walk around or ride around on our scooters and say, 'I am so burdened by life.' What burdens us are barriers and thoughtlessness."
For example, Kemp said that each year when it's time to renew his vehicle parking sticker where he lives, he said he has to visit the medical director at the Department of Motor Vehicles in person, "just to prove that I haven't grown arms and legs yet and that I still deserve a parking tag."
Such thoughtlessness is why Kemp said one value of people with disabilities is a "heightened acceptance" of human difference. "We understand and accept others' differences more readily, whether they are racial, economic, social," he said.
Today's event also began the second year for a Defense Department initiative to help those with disabilities find employment. The E-Mentoring program, which began last year, is an extension of DoD's summer-hire recruitment program and pairs college students with disabilities and DoD personnel in a mentorship.
Through the program, mentors communicate with disabled students over the course of a year, either by e-mail or telephone. The mentors help disabled students refine their career plans and encourage them to consider a career with the Defense Department.
"Our purpose is to empower individuals and to enable the fulfillment of individual goals," explained Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness), who hosted the DoD event.
Abell said that mentors in the program can get special equipment or software needed to interact with disabled students through DoD's Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program. The equipment is provided at no cost to mentors or organizations working in partnership with DoD, he added.
CAP's services help make work environments more accessible to employees with impairments such as vision, hearing and mobility. The program aims to increase the representation and retention of people with disabilities in DoD and the rest of the federal government.
Abell said that the Federal Workforce Recruitment Program refers more than 1,000 disabled students for employment in federal agencies each year. DoD funds a minimum 200 of those students for summer jobs across the nation, he pointed out.
"The E-Mentoring program is a 'win-win' proposition for the student and the Defense Department," Abell said. "We want to increase the number of persons with disabilities in our workforce, and they want jobs, especially with the Department of Defense. We are investing in their career development and they want significant and successful careers.
"We (DoD) believe that everyone should have a job and that disabilities should be no barrier for persons who have the skills and abilities we seek."