DoD Honors Outstanding Disabled Workers
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
BETHESDA, Md., Dec. 12, 2001 Eighteen employees with disabilities were presented secretary of defense certificates of recognition during the 21st annual DoD Disability Awards Ceremony and the 14th annual DoD Disability Forum here at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Dec. 11.
Three DoD components received secretary of defense trophies for making outstanding progress for persons with disabilities. The Air Force garnered the trophy for the best military department. The Defense Logistics Agency received the trophy for the best mid-size component. The best small component trophy went to the Defense Security Service.
The trophies are brass cups that travel annually from one winner to the next.
The honorees were selected by their organizations from among thousands of defense employees worldwide. As of June 30, 2001, DoD employed 6,474 persons with severe disabilities, which is 1.09 percent of a civilian workforce of 593,277, excluding National Guard and Reserve technicians.
Noting that DoD employs more disabled people than most other federal agencies, DoD's undersecretary for personnel and readiness, David Chu, said, "I know we can do better than that." And, he added, the secretary of defense intends to double employment of those with severe disabilities
DoD plans to hire 32,000 persons with disabilities, with emphasis on those with severe disabilities, over the next five years, officials said.
The Census Bureau reports that almost 57 percent of people with severe disabilities don't have jobs. Many of them want to work and could work, but they don't seek employment. "They're too discouraged to try, and that's a great waste of talent," Chu said.
DoD buys whatever assistive technology its employees need. The DoD Computer/Electronics Accommodations Program. puts customers first, cuts red tape and empowers employees, Chu said. "We've purchased over 25,000 (technological) accommodations and expanded the program to all agencies," he noted. "And we're now providing service to 45 partner agencies in addition to DoD activities around the world."
Chu said he hopes the men and women being awarded will inspire managers and supervisors throughout DoD "to take another look at the potential for those who are classified as disabled and investigate how they can be integrated into the workforce."
Craig B. Luigart, the ceremony's keynote speaker, said a new law -- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which became law on June 21 -- 2001 requires all federal agencies to use electronic information systems that are accessible to persons with disabilities.
The law ensures that individuals with disabilities have access to federal information, including government Web sites. This means that screen readers and electronic products, such as computer software, hardware, copy machines, fax machines and other equipment, must be accessible and usable by the disabled community.
"What this means is that a blind person will be able to open up a government Web site and be able to read all portions of it," said Luigart, a wheelchair-bound former Navy aviator, ranked squash player, national ski patroller and University of Louisville swimmer. "Copy machines will be designed so that a person like myself in a wheelchair will be able to use the machine without asking for help."
He explained he has trouble using copy machines because he can't see the instructions or the numbers on the electronic keypad. "It's positioned above my eyesight. That's pretty frustrating," he said.
"I believe that soon all people, rich or poor, able-bodied or disabled, will be able to access the wonders of this age to learn to improve their lives," said Luigart, the Department of Education's chief information officer. "I believe that technology can compensate for our handicaps -- financial, mental, physical and more -- so that the playing field is leveled in ways never before imagined. We'll all have a chance to contribute."
Judith C. Gilliom, DoD's disability program manager, said she believes opportunities are better for people in the Department of Defense today than they've ever been. Gilliom works for the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Equal Opportunity. "We're celebrating success, inclusion, empowerment -- the things that make people with disabilities today part of the mainstream," she said.
The winners are:
- Jolanda L. Allen, National Imagery and Mapping Agency;
- Patrick W. Birello, Department of Defense Education Activity;
- Robert D. Brackin, Defense Commissary Agency;
- Stanley W. Brown, Defense Intelligence Agency;
- Robert W. Bush, Defense Logistics Agency;
- Sheila M. Noel, Department of the Air Force;
- Emily A. Fryckman, Defense Contract Audit Agency;
- Robert M. Hettiger, Defense Finance and Accounting Service;
- Tammy J. Johnson, Defense Contract Management Agency; Roosevelt A. McCoy, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences;
- Linda L. Politz, Army and Air Force Exchange Service;
- Patrya D. Richardson, Office of the Inspector General;
- David Rosenbaum, Department of the Navy;
- Gail S. Sweet, Defense Information Systems Agency;
- Vickii L. Thomas, Department of the Army;
- Marilyn L. Werner, Defense Security Service;
- Edward A. Weiss, Defense Threat Reduction Agency; and
- Cynthia K. Worley, Office of the Secretary of Defense/Washington Headquarters Services.