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Officials Praise DoD's Efforts in Disabilities Programs

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 1996 – Officials at the Pentagon's ceremony Oct. 15 to honor DoD employees with disabilities and agencies' hiring practices praised DoD's efforts.

Since 1945, DoD has designated October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year, Frederick Pang, assistant secretary of defense for force management, presented awards to outstanding employees with disabilities and to organizations with outstanding affirmative action programs.

Pang said DoD employs about 9,000 individuals whose severe disabilities have been targeted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for emphasis in affirmative action programs. That's 1.25 percent of the civilian work force, he said.

"We're proud of that record, which is higher than in most agencies, but we know we can and must do better," Pang added. "The Census Bureau reports almost 70 percent of people with disabilities are not actively seeking work. They are too discouraged to try.

"Most of us who are not disabled can realistically expect to be employed. People with disabilities have no such assurance."

Pang said the secretary of defense has established a goal to increase employment of people with severe disabilities to 2 percent. "We are well on our way to achieving that goal," he said.

This summer, for example, DoD funded summer jobs for 129 college students with severe disabilities. The department also provided more than 10,000 specially adapted computers for employees with disabilities since establishing the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program in 1991.

Before delivering the keynote address, former Rep. Tony Coelho singled out the contributions of Judith Gilliom, DoD disability program manager. "Nobody has done more to help those of us with disabilities having our rightful place," said Coelho, who has epilepsy. Coelho, who chairs the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, said he believes deeply in the power of government to improve the lives and living conditions of all Americans.

"One of the ways it's done is by setting high standards and good examples for the private sector to follow," he said. "The integration of the armed forces, for example, was perhaps the most dramatic, highly visible, early advance in the cause of civil rights. It succeeded dramatically in showing that race is an artificial barrier ... . DoD, by setting the example and showing the benefits of integration, pioneered a powerful social upheaval.

"In more recent times, government agencies like the Defense Department have again been leaders in bringing about long overdue change for 49 million Americans with disabilities. I am here personally to express my appreciation for what all of you are doing ... . I'm speaking as a grateful individual to thank you for providing so many opportunities for people with disabilities, for giving us the chance to show how capably we can perform when given a fair chance."

Coelho cited DoD's support of the federal recruitment program for college students with disabilities, saying he hopes DoD will hire more than 200 students next summer. Now, he said, the program is expanding to the private sector, as well as to other government agencies, using DoD as the example.

In addition, Coelho noted the success of the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program and plans to expand the program to all federal agencies. "Again, DoD will have led the way," he said.

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