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Disabled Former Soviet Citizen Becomes Outstanding DoD Employee

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2002 – Solomon V. Rakhman can't talk without the help of a computer. He can't get around without his motorized wheelchair. But the severely disabled cerebral palsy victim is one smart, determined and personable guy with a winning smile that steals the heart of everyone who meets him.

And he performs noteworthy work as a computer assistant at the Naval Sea Services Command Carderock Division's (Bethesda, Md.) Interactive Electronic Technical Manual Section in Philadelphia, Pa. His job performance won him praise from the Navy and a secretary of defense certificate for outstanding DoD employees with disabilities. The award was presented on Dec. 3 during the 22nd Annual DoD Disability Awards Ceremony in Bethesda, Md.

Rakhman immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1988 at the age of 15 with his parents, brother and grandparents. He entered the DoD work force in 2000 as a summer hire through the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities. Now a permanent employee, he works in the section that develops interactive electronic technical manuals. In the past two years, he has processed more than 225 manuals for hull, mechanical and electrical ship systems.

Working mostly from home, Rakhman provides detailed and extremely accurate quality assurance reviews of Integrated Electronic Technical Manual electronic files and associated graphic images, according to his supervisor, Gerald McKernan.

McKernan said Rakhman had become proficient in SGML, or Standard Generalized Markup Language, used in electronic publishing. He learned the specialized language with no formal training.

"He's now developing a totally new IETM -- Interactive Electronic Technical Manual -- for the CG-47 Ticonderoga-class cruiser Machinery Control System Signal Diagrams," McKernan noted. "The CG-47 control tech manual is the main machinery systems manual for the cruiser. It controls the main propulsion, power generation and the damage control systems for the ship. This is one of the main hull mechanical and electrical tech manuals for the ship.

"Solomon is developing the tech manual from drawings," McKernan said. "He's also developing the signal flow diagrams, which allow the sailor to troubleshoot the systems if there's a problem."

In August 2000, Rakhman was featured in a story in "Wavelengths" about his experience as an intern with the division. He was hired by the Integrated Logistics and Fleet Maintenance Department during the summer of 2000 through the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities.

"He's happy to be in this country," said Rakhman's mother, Ava, who is an engineer. "He spent 15 years of his life in the former Soviet Union, where his life was terrible. When he came over here, he got a completely new life and a wheelchair with a special device that helps him to speak and be understood."

"He was able to finish high school and complete Temple University cum laude, and he's able to work and almost be a normal person," said Ava Rakhman, whose husband, Vulf, is a former power station engineer and now a rehabilitation engineer at Widener Memorial School in Philadelphia. "He's very, very lucky."

Rakhman earned a bachelor's degree in economics in May 2000 at the Fox School of Business and Management of Temple University, where he remained on the dean's list for his entire college career. He's now pursuing a master's degree in business administration.

While at Temple, Rakhman was a member of the Business Honors Program and the Omicron Epsilon Chapter of the Economic Honor Society; served on the advisory board for the Institute on Disabilities, where he was also a trainer with the institute's Physician Education Project; volunteered as a peer tutor for augmentative communications and empowerment supports. He was awarded Temple's outstanding student scholarship from 1994 through 1998; the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities Nordstrom Scholarship in 1995 and the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation scholarship in 1995 and 2000.

No one in the family spoke English well when they immigrated. Solomon only spoke a little English when he arrived, his mother said, but he discovered a book he could read, Carson McCullers' "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter." "After that, he became an avid reader," she noted. His hobbies include reading novels, Russian and world literature, books on history, economics and science and current periodicals, such as The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American and National Review. He enjoys classical music, art and travel.

Rakhman uses a computer-driven voice system for augmented communication. "He gives public speeches about the possibilities that computer technology open for people with disabilities to become full, productive and self-sufficient members of society," Ava Rakhman said. "He was selected to give a keynote address at the annual Assistive Technology Conference in Kyoto, Japan. Also, he was elected a Worlds Plus Consumer lecturer at the biannual conference of the International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communications in August at Odense, Denmark.

Solomon received a special recognition plaque from the Navy from Betty S. Welch, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for civilian personnel and equal employment opportunity, before the DoD annual disability awards ceremony.

"The fact that we have marvelous employees in the Navy and some of them may have disabilities is something we should appreciate as an American public," Welch said. "A disability doesn't make you a poor worker or anything but a great American, and you deserve the opportunity to excel.

"We look toward having more people with disabilities come to work in government, especially in the Department of the Navy," Welch said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageComputer assistant Solomon V. Rakhman (right) poses with his father, Vulf Rakhman, and Betty S. Welch, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for civilian personnel and equal employment opportunity, after receiving the secretary of defense certificate for outstanding employees with disabilities. The award was presented during the 22nd Annual DoD Disability Awards Ceremony in Bethesda, Md., on Dec. 3, 2002. Photo by Rudi Williams.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAva Rakhman, left, assist her son Solomon V. Rakhman during the 2001 DoD disability awards ceremony and disability forum. This year, Solomon was honored with a secretary of defense certificate for outstanding DoD employees with disabilities. The Rakhmans emigrated to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union in 1988. Photo courtesy Tony Murkins, Naval Undersea Warfare Center  
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