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News | Nov. 4, 2019

Finding ability beyond disabilities in the workforce

By Natalie Skelton, DLA Aviation Public Affairs

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other legislative actions before it, have helped individuals with disabilities make great strides in being considered as equals alongside their professional peers. Despite these changes in the law, changes in thinking among employers remains a challenge.

Jennifer McDonough, a faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University, spoke Oct. 30 in the Lotts Conference Center on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, about overcoming this challenge at a presentation capping Defense Logistics Agency Aviation’s month-long recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The event was hosted by the Command Programs Office, Command Support Directorate, in observance of NDEAM.

McDonough’s work includes helping individuals find employment and determining accommodation needs. She asked the audience, “As a business owner or manager, you may be thinking, ‘Why should I hire people with disabilities?’”

Among the many reasons, she said, are that more than 56 million people with disabilities live and work in the U.S. — that’s one in five who identify as having some form of disability. “This means it is highly likely you already employ individuals with disabilities,” she said.

McDonough, who also serves as the director of training at VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, also dispelled many myths associated with employing individuals with disabilities:

- Sick days: Employees with disabilities take no more sick days or leave days than employees without disabilities.
- Performance: Employees with disabilities are consistently rated as having average or above average performance in a variety of fields, including in quality and quantity of work, flexibility to demands, attendance and safety.
- Accommodation: Fewer than half of surveyed employees with disabilities require special accommodation.
- Cost: Of the workers who do require some form of accommodation, that accommodation incurred a one-time cost just 36% of the time, and that cost was on average just $500. Only 3% of workers required ongoing costs related to accommodation.

“Hiring individuals with disabilities makes business sense,” McDonough said.

Representatives within DLA Aviation directorates attended the event and participated in a question and answer session at the end.

At the event’s conclusion, DLA Aviation Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Manager Deborah Winston presented McDonough with a certificate of appreciation signed by Charlie Lilli, deputy commander, DLA Aviation.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month predates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. The awareness event began in 1945 when Congress declared the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” It was the return of service members with disabilities from World War II that prompted growing public interest in the workplace contributions of people with disabilities.