In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the Department of Defense annually recognizes individuals as well as DoD components and military departments for outstanding achievements in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce.
This year’s ceremony, held Oct. 5 at the Pentagon, honored both the Defense Logistics Agency and one of its employees, Thomas Q. Comeans, a small business specialist at DLA Land and Maritime.
DLA has won the award for best mid-sized component among employers of individuals with disabilities 16 times, including several consecutive years, according to Nancy Anthony, DLA disability program manager.
One program that helps DLA maintain its edge as an award-winning employer is the Workforce Recruitment Program, she said.
“We’ve gained a lot of employees that come in through the program and we’re able to hire them into [permanent] vacancies,” Anthony said. “It’s an excellent program, because we get a free probationary period with free DoD funding.”
DLA also offers free American Sign Language classes, supplies, equipment and services critical to provide reasonable accommodations for its employees. A reasonable accommodation is assistance or changes to a position or workplace that will enable an employee to do his or her job despite having a disability.
Although Comeans was not hired under the WRP, he has been with DLA for 39 years and has only good things to say about his history with the agency.
“I started out as a clerk, got into an upward mobility program and became a buyer,” he said. “Then I went into a mid-level management position and became a supervisor. I was a supervisor for about 20 years.”
Comeans has a progressive genetic retinal disease that weakens his vision on an average of every six months.
“Eventually, my vision continued to get worse, so I requested to go to a non-supervisory position and wound up in the Small Business Office,” he said.
Comeans is responsible for reviewing and approving thousands of small business coordination records with proposed acquisitions at DLA Land and Maritime. He is one of the top highest work producers in a team of nine employees, where he reviewed 1,640 proposed contract actions valued over $945 million dollars. After a loss of a team member, he took on additional work to lead his team until the vacancy could be filled.
He now performs his duties using software called Job Access With Speech. JAWS, provided by DLA as a reasonable accommodation, allows blind and visually impaired users to read the screen either with a text-to-speech output or by a refreshable Braille display.
Comeans said he was “very surprised and honored” by the Secretary Of Defense Award For Civilians With Disabilities.
“If something happens, you just have to make the best of it and keep pushing yourself — you can’t give up,” he said, regarding the nature of his disability. “Put your faith in God and take one day at a time.”
Anthony credits DLA’s many benefits as reasons the agency remains an attractive employer for those with disabilities. These include designated disability program managers for each of DLA’s headquarters and major subordinate commands, pilot mentorship programs, wounded warrior and disabled veterans programs and a recent partnership with Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
She also said she hopes to build on the momentum of the awards recognition, “Not because we want to win, but because it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “We’re great because of the employees we hire.”