COLUMBUS, Ohio –
Advancing equity in the workplace was at the forefront of a panel discussion at the 2022 Defense Federal Community National Disability Employment Awareness Month hybrid program held at the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Operations Center Auditorium Oct. 26.
The Land and Maritime event was hosted by the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity’s People with Disabilities Employment Program.
This year’s theme "Disability, Part of Our Equity Equation,” brings awareness to diversity within the disability community and advocates for equity in hiring and retaining employees with disabilities from all backgrounds.
“DLA endeavors to be a model employer where our workforce reflects our country’s population,” Land and Maritime Deputy Director Kenneth Watson said. “At the end of FY 22, close to 16 percent of the Land and Maritime workforce identified as disabled.”
In contrast, Watson said, the general population hovers around 25 percent of people who self-identify as having a disability.
“That means over 50 million people in the United States have a disability,” he said. “This represents a resource we will continue to tap; through various recruiting measures we have available to us at DLA.”
Land and Maritime Inventory Management Specialist and panelist Jigar Patel who is deaf, was recruited to DLA through the Workforce Recruitment Program, and started out as a temporary employee in a developmental role but later secured a permanent position. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, WRP is a recruitment and referral program that connects federal and private-sector employers nationwide with college students and recent graduates with disabilities.
WRP and other pathways like Schedule A and other authorities ensure people with disabilities are a vital part of the DLA workforce at all levels as is reasonable accommodation once employees are on board.
“DLA works to ensure representation in employment beyond the entry level,” Watson said. “DLA is an organization where individuals with disabilities will not only be hired but we also make sure individuals with disabilities are retained, developed and have an opportunity to grow and to thrive.”
Patel said his experience with reasonable accommodation at Land and Maritime has gone very well.
“They have officially provided me ASL interpreters for important meetings, trainings and big events,” he said. “And they’ve also made sure that any video or live lectures has been captioned for me and sent me the notes in advance, so I know what is being said. And then my colleagues are also friendly and willing to learn as much sign language as they can to communicate with me.”
Patel said he was grateful for the efforts made by reasonable accommodation to help him to be effective at work.
DLA Human Resources Assistant and panelist Tammie Farmer said her experience at obtaining employment at DLA has been a blessing.
Farmer who gradually became deaf as a child and young adult, said shortly after joining DLA from another agency in March 2021, she needed additional accommodations for her sight in addition to her hearing as it was found shortly after onboarding that she also had a slight visual impairment caused by a bout of COVID in November 2020.
“Land and Maritime gave me larger monitors so I could be able to see what was on the screen to perform my work duties,” she said.
Now having the two disabilities, Farmer said the Land and Maritime EEO Reasonable Accommodation office has been very supportive, prompt and optimal to accommodate most of her needs to perform her work tasks.
But equity and inclusion does not stop there. Overall awareness and acceptance are also key to the equity equation.
“Disability is part of society,” Farmer said. “And it should be accepted and well understood because disabled people are human beings too. They have special needs, and they should be treated fairly, impartially and with dignity.”
Patel emphasized that supervisors and DLA leadership look at the whole person not just their disability.
“Inclusiveness is mostly about demonstrating mutual respect and valuing each individual for his or her strengths and contributions,” he said.
Farmer said more progress is needed from all levels at DLA to better understand people with disabilities and ensure that their values continue to be added to the DLA equity equation.
She stressed that agencies need to understand what each disability is and how each individual with these conditions communicates.
“There are 21 disability languages that have been identified under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act of 2016,” she said.
She named off all the major categories of disabilities as knowing is a crucial part of awareness.
“Learn and know what people with disabilities have been born with,” Farmer said, “and struggling with and what needs they all necessitate to accomplish goals and survive in society.”
“Please think of the person first and do not look at their disability,” Patel said.
Farmer stressed that consideration, understanding, respect and patience is key for successful outcomes of people with disabilities in the workplace.
“Trust and believe that people with disabilities can get the job done,” she said.
Land and Maritime EEO Employee Assistance Program Manager and panelist Drew Henderson said the Employee Assistance Program helps all associates whether they have disabilities or not.
“It’s always important that the EAP provides an opportunity for associates to share their stories, their challenges,” he said. “It’s important for all of our associates to feel they have a voice.”
DLA has continually been a leader in inclusion and equity within the Department of Defense. The agency’s commitment to hiring, promoting and supporting employees with disabilities earned it top honors for the sixth consecutive year at the 42nd Annual Secretary of Defense Disability Awards Ceremony at the Pentagon Oct. 20.
DLA Land and Maritime Land Supplier Operations Deputy Director Donald Schulze, who serves as the People with Disabilities Employment Program Executive Champion closed the program by thanking all involved in its production.
Land and Maritime Contract Specialist Jeanie Gross served as the event Mistress of Ceremonies.
A sign-language interpreter was present throughout the event.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month has been observed continuously for more than 75 years. The awareness event began in 1945 when Congress declared the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week,” prompted by the return of service members with disabilities from World War II. In 1988, Congress passed a bill to recognize October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.