Former DoD Employee Spends 22 Years Striving to Help Disabled Employees
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2002 Charles S. Abell recently expressed a hearty "Thank you" to the man who established the annual Perspectives on Employment of Persons with Disability Conference.
Abell, principal undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, pointed out the annual national training conference is the only one that focuses exclusively on federal employment of individuals with disabilities. And he said DoD appreciates Paul M. Meyer's "willingness to allow us, the Department of Defense, to conduct our disability awards ceremony and forum as a part of this symposium."
Each year, DoD holds its disability awards ceremony and disability forum the day before Meyer's conference gets under way. This year, the DoD events were held in Bethesda, Md., on Dec. 3, followed by the Dec. 4-6 conference. Sixteen DoD employees with disabilities received secretary of defense certificates in recognition of their outstanding job performance. Three DoD components were lauded for achievement in employment of people with disabilities.
Abell noted that Meyer initiated the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities, which DoD co-chairs and co-sponsors with the Department of Labor.
The recruitment program began with a single student that Meyer hired in 1975, when he was a Navy civilian employee, Abell said. "Now it's a nationwide, governmentwide program that is beginning to make inroads in the private sector as well," he noted.
When Meyer stepped to the podium, he commended DoD for holding the awards ceremony and recognizing people and agencies that have made a difference for people with disabilities. He also lauded DoD for "for having one of the strongest and wonderful programs to really provide affirmative action for people with disabilities."
In an interview later, Meyer said his conference features about six high-level speakers and 23 workshops on topics dealing with employees with disabilities. He said federal workers from across the country meet to learn the latest information on technology, personnel policies, resources, recent case law and accommodation strategies affecting the employment of persons with disabilities in the federal sector.
"DoD is one of the longest standing co-sponsors," Meyer noted. "We've always had someone from DoD on the planning committee. Other sponsors included the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Drug Abuse.
He said he and three friends from the Office of Personnel Management started the conference 22 years ago. The four were later joined by representatives from other federal agencies.
Meyer said there are two goals. The first is to train new people so they know what's going on in hiring and retention and in treating people with disabilities as human beings. "This is a very evolving area, and a lot of people change every couple of years," he noted. "The conference provides them with two-and-a-half days of training on how to manage a disability program."
He said the second goal is to rejuvenate people who deal with disability employment-related issues. "We work outside in our own little worlds, often in an environment where we might be the only person working in the civil rights area," Meyer said. "And, you might be at a place somewhere in Nebraska and think that no one else does this kind of work and no one else has the problems you have. Then you get together with 300 to 400 people who are in the business and you realize that you're not alone."
Meyer said even if all the physical barriers were removed and all civil rights complaints were resolved, nothing would change unless first-line managers start treating people with disabilities as being like everyone else.
"The issue isn't money, accommodations or assistive devices, it's the first- line manager seeing you as a human being and treating you as a human being," he added. "That goes for all issues, disability, civil rights -- everything. It's just a people issue to me. So if I can get people to go back and spread that word that it makes good sense to hire people with disabilities and treat them as people, I've accomplished something."