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DoD Dedicated to Increasing Jobs for People With Disabilities

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

BETHESDA, Md., Dec. 6, 2002 – DoD hires more people with disabilities than most other federal agencies, but Charles S. Abell said defense officials are not satisfied. They want to do better.

Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said persons with mental and physical disabilities can make valuable contributions to America's defense, and DoD is committed to doing whatever is necessary to allow them to contribute.

For example, he said each year, the Office of the Secretary of Defense funds at least 200 summer jobs through the workforce recruitment program for college students with disabilities.

"Last year, 217 students were hired at DoD activities nationwide with ranks ranging from GS-2 to GS-9,"Abell recently pointed out during the 22nd Annual DoD Disability Awards Ceremony and 15th Annual DoD Disability Forum here at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Noting that a quarter of the students came from the Washington metropolitan area, he said the rest were scattered around 31 different states and territories, including Alaska and Puerto Rico.

"They were employed in occupations ranging from computer specialist to business analyst, from engineering technician to student trainee," Abell said. "We had a cross section of America, diverse in every conceivable way, diverse in skills, abilities, gender, race, age, ethnic origin, diverse as the people in this room, as diverse as President Bush's vision of America."

Abell highlighted a new year-round electronic mentoring program that was started in October that helps summer hires explore career options in the defense workforce. Fifty-two students signed up for the program.

"It's a win/win proposition for them and for us," Abell said. "We want capable, motivated employees, and these students want a future that satisfies and challenges them, and I think we found a match."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has set a goal of employing 32,000 people with disabilities over the five-year period that began in fiscal 2001, Abell noted. "We've exceeded our goals for the first two years, and we will intensify our efforts in the future," he said.

Rumsfeld isn't pleased with the decline in the number and percent of people with severe disabilities on DoD's payroll. Consequently, Abell said, the department will focus on hiring more individuals with severe disabilities.

"I'm proud to report that we currently employ more than 6,000 individuals with severe disabilities targeted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for emphasis in affirmative action programs," the deputy undersecretary said. "That's almost 1.1 percent of our civilian workforce. While that percentage is higher than in most federal agencies, we in the department are committed to doing better."

Nearly 75 percent of people who have severe disabilities do not have jobs, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. "Although many want to work and could work, most do not actively seek employment," Abell said. "We believe they are discouraged to even try. By contrast, the corresponding percentage for Americans with disabilities who are neither working nor looking for work is less than 20 percent. Most of us who are not disabled can realistically expect to find employment. People with disabilities have no such assurance."

Alluding to this year's theme for national disability employment awareness month, "New Freedom for the 21st Century," Abell said, "Our freedom is now at risk. We must make all Americans, including individuals with disabilities, freedom fighters in the global war against terror. This war is being fought in many ways and in many places. Perhaps more often in our homeland and our desks than on battlefields around the world."

Abell said as the nation fights this critical battle, "we want individuals with disabilities to be full-fledged members of our defense team. We buy whatever assistive technology our employee need through the central accommodations fund. We have purchased over 29,000 accommodations since the program was established in 1990."

In addition to its own agencies, DoD is providing assistive technology and services to more than 40 partner agencies around the world, the deputy undersecretary noted. "The DoD Computer Electronic Accommodations Program -- we call it CAP -- puts customers first, cuts red tape and empowers employees," he told more than 400 attendees at the disability awards ceremony.

Abell said President Bush is passionate about helping America's more than 50 million disabled persons to obtain meaningful work and to achieve equality of opportunity, independent living and economic self- sufficiency.

And, he said, DoD is dedicated to trying to help make whatever changes needed to reach the president's goal.

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DoD Honors 16 Employees With Disabilities; Keynoter Calls Attitudes 'No. 1 Barrier'

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