Annual DoD award honors DLA’s commitment to individuals with disabilities

By Beth Reece

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The Defense Logistics Agency has another year of bragging rights as the Department of Defense’s best mid-sized component among employers of individuals with disabilities. The agency has earned the honor 17 times, more than any other component since DoD created an award to highlight achievements in diversity in 1991.

“This success is an enterprisewide achievement. It shows the commitment from every one of DLA’s major subordinate commands to support people with disabilities,” said Russell Lowe, deputy director of the DLA Equal Opportunity Employment Office.

About 14 percent of DLA’s employees have a disability and 2 percent have a targeted disability such as blindness and deafness. The DoD recognition is partly due to the agency’s involvement in the Workforce Recruitment Program, an annual recruitment and referral program that places prescreened college students and recent graduates with disabilities in 14-week internships with federal agencies.

Of the 65 student hires brought into the agency between June 2017 and May 2018, six were converted to permanent positions through the noncompetitive Schedule A hiring authority or DLA’s Pathways to Career Excellence Program, a two-year program that trains entry-level personnel for subsequent advancement.

“Our use of the WRP sets us apart, and we can actually compete against large-size components in terms of participation and conversion of interns to permanent jobs,” said Nancy Rivera, DLA Disability Program manager.

Employee training on the agency’s reasonable accommodations policies and procedures also sets DLA apart from other DoD components, said Eric Spanbauer, DLA EEO special emphasis program manager.

“We make it a priority to ensure employees know what to do and who to talk to for a reasonable accommodation, and that we process those requests fast,” he said.

Accommodations range from assistive technology like large-print keyboards and Braille displays to American Sign Language interpreters. Quickly responding to requests by those who need such accommodations shows DLA is a disability-friendly workplace focused on hiring and keeping qualified individuals regardless of their physical and mental challenges, Spanbauer added.

Since deafness is the predominant disability among DLA employees, the agency also offers ASL classes to supervisors and hearing employees to improve communication among the workforce.

Maintaining Section 508 compliance is another key element in DLA’s selection as DoD’s best mid-sized component. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to provide tools that enable individuals with disabilities to access and use electronic data in a manner comparable to individuals without disabilities. In 2018, DLA purchased new 508 compliant scanning software for use throughout the enterprise and continues to add new 508 complaint technology. DLA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee helps pinpoint potential accessibility problems, as well.

DLA EEO officials continue to create new ways to attract and keep individuals with disabilities. Initiatives like a new Employee Resource Group, for example, are expected to elevate and address concerns of employees with disabilities.

“We’re always searching for new ways to break potential barriers and create an environment of inclusion at DLA,” Rivera said.

A new partnership with Gallaudet University, a federally chartered private university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, will enable DLA to present career opportunities to potential employees. It’s the first of what Lowe predicts will be several partnerships with universities and vocational rehabilitation centers near DLA locations.

A pilot mentorship program aimed at preparing individuals with disabilities for leadership roles could also be implemented agencywide in the next year, Rivera added.

Alyssa Schreiner, a management and program analyst for DLA Finance, is one of many who’ve reaped benefits of DLA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. She came to DLA as a WRP intern in 2011. That same year, she was hired into a permanent position as a GS-5 management assistant. She is now a GS-14 and believes DLA deserves its numerous DoD awards.

“DLA excels at providing employees with reasonable accommodations needed, allowing a flexible work schedule, encouraging opportunities for career growth and leadership development, and fostering a learning environment,” she said.

An in-depth article on DLA employees who rose through the ranks after interning with DLA through the WRP will be featured in the November/December issue of Loglines.