Defense Civilian Earns Honor for Assisting Disabled Employees
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2007 The director of the Defense Department’s Computer/Electronics Accommodations Program is a Service to America award recipient for her efforts on behalf of disabled servicemembers and civilian employees.
Dinah F.B. Cohen (left), director of the Defense Department’s Computer/Electronics Accommodations Program that assists disabled federal employees and servicemembers, poses with her Service to America award with Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, at the Pentagon on Sept. 20, 2007. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Dinah F.B. Cohen's award represents “a culmination of a lot of years of work,” Cohen said today at an exhibition of assistive technology equipment available through the program.
“I am really, really honored,” Cohen said.
The annual awards are presented by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service to honor significant achievements of federal employees.
Cohen played a key role in convincing Congress to change federal law to enable disabled servicemembers to keep CAPs-issued equipment that helps them do their jobs.
Before the law was changed, disabled servicemembers were required to turn in such equipment as they transitioned to Department of Veterans Affairs-provided care.
Now, “you’re not taking it away from someone who is starting to use it and starting to feel engaged and independent,” Cohen explained. Upgraded equipment can be provided later by the VA, she added.
The Defense Department established the Computer/Electronics Accommodations Program in 1990. It purchases and delivers hardware, software and services needed by disabled employees to function in the workplace. CAP partners with 64 other federal agencies, including Veterans Affairs.
Since its creation, CAP has furnished more than 60,000 requests for equipment accommodations for disabled employees, said Cohen, who has directed the program since its inception. As of this spring, the program has assisted more than 2,500 wounded servicemembers.
Improved medical technology has reduced U.S. battlefield deaths during the war against terrorism, Cohen said. But some surviving servicemembers “are coming back with massive disabling conditions and functional limitations,” she observed.
That’s where assistive technology for the workplace comes in, Cohen said.
“Once someone knows that there is an opportunity to continue to work with the use of assistive technology, you give them hope, you give them their independence back,” she said.
Mark Rew, who is blind and has worked for CAP for more than three years, appreciates the integrated audio device that tells him what’s on his computer screen.
“Without this technology, disabled people would not have jobs,” Rew said.
Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, visited the CAP Technology Evaluation Center today to thank Cohen and to observe a demonstration of available technology for disabled federal employees.
“I’m so proud to stand next to Dinah Cohen,” Casscells said. Cohen’s labors, he said, enable disabled federal civilians and wounded servicemembers to obtain both work and respect.
Cohen is intimately familiar with surmounting adversity. Her parents are Holocaust survivors and she was diagnosed with an inoperable heart ailment when she was a youngster.
“The best part about this job is that I feel that I’m giving back,” Cohen said, noting U.S. troops liberated her father from a Nazi concentration camp and nursed him back to health at the end of World War II.
“Nothing made him happier or more proud than when I started this job working for the Department of Defense,” Cohen said of her father.