NEW CUMBERLAND, PA –
DLA Distribution’s Multicultural Committee recognized National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the contributions of workers with disabilities and educated the Headquarters audience, which included the commanders, directors and deputies from Distributions network of 24 distribution centers, about the value of a workforce inclusive of their skills and talents with a panel program held on Wednesday, Oct. 24. This year’s theme is “America’s Workforce: Empowering All.”
To begin the event, a video version of the national anthem was played. The video displayed the song being “sung” in American Sign Language with closed captions on the bottom of the screen. The purpose of this performance was for the average listener to experience the national song the way a deaf person would experience it.
The panel assembled for the talk show style question and answer session included Devon D. Grant, executive director of the Governor’s Cabinet and Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities; DLA Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania process worker Sally A. Davis and her supervisor Darryl Hall; and management assistant with Distribution Headquarters’ Organization Management directorate Mason Chronister, his service dog Xavier and his supervisor Polly A. Charbonneau.
DLA Distribution commanding officer Navy Rear Adm. Kevin M. Jones welcomed everyone to the event. “Today, and this month are about honoring and celebrating our employees with disabilities and those who have, are and will contribute. Everyone has value and this is an opportunity for us to show our employees we value them.”
The panel discussion was moderated by DLA Distribution Public Affairs Officer, Dawn Bonsell who started by asking Grant about his role on the Governor’s Cabinet and Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities. He explained “On March 10, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed Executive Order 2016-03, ‘Establishing ‘Employment First’ Policy and Increasing Competitive-Integrated Employment for Pennsylvanians with a Disability.’”
“Employment first is the idea that employment should be the first consideration and preferred outcome for all publicly funded services. Work first is the idea.”
Additionally, Grant said “It is really important to think of your entire work force as productive members of the staff and facility. There really is no difference, if they can do the job they can do the job. There has been a study that the retention rate and productivity rate is higher in employees with disabilities than those without.”
Both Davis and Chronister were asked about their experiences with the hiring process at DLA Distribution. Chronister applied for an internship through the Workforce Recruitment Program in both 2014 and 2015 while he was still a college student, before eventually being hired.
“I would like to see more deaf workers, and a change of perspective. As well as people with Ushers Syndrome, which is what I have. Those with this disability struggle when looking for work,” explained Chronister.
Davis’s experience was slightly different. Both she and her husband, who is also deaf, work for DLA Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. She felt the application process was a very frustrating experience.
“To improve the hiring process, it would be better if it were online, allowing for more clear explanations and better understanding of the questions, to make the language more accessible for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Not everyone is as fluent in English and some of the questions are difficult to understand. More face to face communication would be beneficial,” Davis explained.
From the supervisor’s point of view, Charbonneau explained her experience with the WRP as a positive one. “I found the WRP program to be user friendly. It is a good opportunity, you get to try each other out. It is a win-win situation. You are comfortable with the person’s skills and abilities and they are comfortable that this is an organization they want to be a part of.”
“He was right out of college when he came to work for us, and the learning curve for the federal government is pretty steep,” explained Charbonneau. “Mason is extremely smart and detail oriented. He will find discrepancies we don’t see because we are used to slang terms and acronyms.”
Hall explained that in his experience, supervisors try to take every care they can to provide accommodations for people. Supervisors take classes, either through the Learning Management System or in actual classrooms in order to be understanding and able to make people feel comfortable.
“Working with Sally and other people have made me more aware of people in general. You learn to put yourself in other people’s shoes,” said Hall. “You slow down and take the time required to help people understand. We get trained on diversity, not just culture but also learning generational differences.”
Additionally, Hall explained, “it becomes engrained in you to watch out for all people, you have a heightened awareness for your team and your area. So you are always watching out for each other and it makes you a better leader because you have a better sense of everything that is going on in your area.”
Grant wraps up the panel by explaining “how people in society look at people with disability really depends on if they know someone with a disability. There are so many stigmas and stereotypes that are attached to people with disabilities. It is really just getting to know and being open to working with people with disabilities and realizing that all of us in some form or another or at some point in time will have some form of disability. Disability really affects everyone.”
The program wrapped up with Jones returning to the stage and presenting each panel member, as well as the program’s Master of Ceremony, Distribution Headquarters’ Organization Management’s Andy Bradford with certificates of appreciation.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month dates back to 1945, when Congress declared the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was dropped to acknowledge individuals with all types of disabilities. Then, in 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to NDEAM.