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Face of Defense: Logistics Agency Employee Rises Above Disability

By Beth Reece
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT BELVOIR, Va., Oct. 22, 2008 – Sasha Puyans is used to getting “The Look.” Strangers have gasped, pointed and stared. Some have stopped to take her picture.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Sasha Puyans, an employee in the Defense Logistics Agency’s Information Operations Directorate, says she chooses to not let her disability hold her back. Defense Logistics Agency photo by Beth Reece

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The attention usually doesn’t faze Puyans, who will happily pose for photos with a smile so wide and friendly that observers can’t help but see past her short stature and the electric scooter she uses to get around.

“People who’ve never seen a dwarf before are genuinely shocked when they see me,” said Puyans, who has worked with the Defense Logistics Agency’s Information Operations Directorate since September 2000.

“Yes, I use a scooter and crutches, but I’m over it, Honey. I’m going to keep on cruising and make the best of things,” she said.

Puyans was diagnosed at age 3 with diastrophic dysplasia, a rare cartilage and bone disorder that causes joint pain and restricts movement. Those who have the disorder have a short stature with very short arms and legs, commonly known as dwarfism.

While people with diastrophic dysplasia are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Puyans said she doesn’t feel disabled.

“Since I was little, I always knew I was smart. I knew this was going to get me ahead,” she said, pointing to her head.

The 31-year-old is the only one of four siblings to earn a college degree.

“As a disabled person, it’s not like I can just go get a construction job. Either I get an education and a professional job doing the best I can, or my options are cut in half.”

Puyans’ DLA career began with the Workforce Recruitment Program for College Students with Disabilities, a 14-week summer program that gives disabled college students real-world work experience. She was taking classes at Baltimore City Community College and working part time for the Social Security Administration when a friend recommended she submit a resume.

After turning down seven different job offers she received through the Workforce Recruitment Program, Puyans accepted a position with DLA.

“I could see a future here,” she said. “Things have worked out quite well, and there’s still room for growth.”

Puyans calls DLA a “fabulous place to work.” Though she’s held various positions in the agency, she said she loves her current job of handling the checkbook and credit-card purchases for the Information Operations Directorate.

When back and leg surgeries and infections kept her in the hospital or homebound for an extended period two years ago, Puyans’ supervisors made arrangements for her to work from home when able.

“At that time, I was doing a lot of training database work and spreadsheets. I was really busy, which was wonderful,” she said. “A lot of people were like, ‘Don’t you just want to rest?’ But if I sat there with nothing to do, I would have fallen apart. Having my computer, interacting with people from work, it was my way of having some kind of normalcy.”

Other employers may not have been as accommodating, Puyans said. “The agency went above and beyond. DLA is really a wonderful place for a disabled person to work.”

Puyans is active in Little People of America, a national nonprofit group that provides support and information to people with dwarfism. According to the LPA, more than 80 percent of children born with dwarfism have average-height parents. Puyans’ Cuban-born parents are of average height, and only her brother, Brian, shares her genetic condition.

Puyans said she long ago accepted being in the minority in her day-to-day life, so the LPA conventions she attends with Brian always leave her awestruck.

“Rarely do you see even two dwarves in a room, but at these conventions we see 3,000 other people just like ourselves,” she said.

Puyans said a recent trip to Mexico for her first Little People of Mexico Convention renewed her appreciation for being a disabled person living in America.

“If you’re disabled and live in Mexico, you’re not a normal part of society. They don’t have the same opportunities for education there, and many of them are reclusive,” she said. “But here, I go to work, I have a career. I live a full life.”

Even the scooter she relies on doesn’t stop Puyans from commuting an hour and a half on a mix of buses and trains from her home in Baltimore.

“I’ve had surgeries since I was a month old – from my head to my feet. I could very well be doing nothing, sitting at home collecting a Social Security check. But that’s not what I chose,” she said.

(Beth Reece works at the Defense Logistics Agency Public Affairs Office.)

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