COLUMBUS, Ohio –
Members of the Defense Federal Community in Central Ohio recognized National Disability Employment Awareness Month at an Oct. 16 event that highlighted the government’s AbilityOne Program.
The program provides one of the largest sources of employment for individuals who are blind or have significant disabilities. Of the more than 45,000 people whom the AbilityOne Program employs – nearly 30,000 work on Department of Defense contracts.
The primary organizations that facilitate the program include the National Industries for the Blind and SourceAmerica, an agency committed to creating and managing jobs for people challenged by significant disabilities. The program coordinates participation from 550 nonprofit agencies throughout the United States to serve their clientele.
Greg Szabo understands challenges firsthand.
At the age of three, doctors diagnosed him with a retinal degenerative disease that caused him to gradually lose his vision. Despite being blind nearly his entire life, he has held several occupations supporting the DoD that required highly technical skills.
Szabo now serves as director of public relations and development at the Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc., an agency included in the AbilityOne Program. As keynote speaker for the Defense Supply Center Columbus’ AbilityOne Day, he shared his story of inspiration with an audience of more than 400 attendees at the Columbus, Ohio, installation.
“Growing up, I understood there would be things that I wouldn’t be able to do,” he said. “Being able to serve in the military was one of those things, but I was fortunate to work in an industry that makes equipment that goes to support our warfighters. I know the pride people in the AbilityOne Program feel doing their part to contribute to the military – and it’s an honor to do it.”
The AbilityOne Program services contracts on more than 3,000 items, including aircraft, vehicular and electrical parts; clothing, textiles and individual gear; food processing and packaging; medical supplies and many others.
Some of these items can be found at nearly 1,000 locations representing 40 government agencies nationally, including more than 150 base supply centers. These include the AIB (Associated Industries for the Blind) Express Store at DSCC, which offers janitorial and office supplies sold under the SKILCRAFT brand.
Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Deputy Commander Steven Alsup said working with AbilityOne offers some of the most meaningful and fulfilling contracting opportunities available to the agency.
“I’m proud to say that over the past three fiscal years we’ve spent an average of $19 million within this program,” he said. “Across the entire federal government, the AbilityOne Program has delivered more than $3 billion in products and services – all at fair market prices.”
As its largest customer, the DoD procures more than $1.7 billion of products and services annually through the AbilityOne Program.
“The procurement of these products and services enables the employment of thousands of individuals who are blind or who have significant disabilities – including veterans and wounded warriors – reducing the astoundingly high percentage of Americans with disabilities who don’t have jobs,” Alsup added.
Ray Sullivan, a business development manager for NIB, said his organization has worked since 1938 to enhance economic opportunities and personal independence for its members through the creation and sustainment of meaningful employment. And their service to the nation has been present throughout its history.
“For 79 years we’ve helped support the warfighter,” Sullivan said. “We have built trust through a mutual understanding of one another’s requirements and capabilities – and we want to continue being your partner.”
DSCC’s AbilityOne Day included presentations by industry leaders and a series of workshops that evaluated past performance and discussed future opportunities for continued collaboration.
DLA Land and Maritime’s Office of Small Business Programs planned the event in conjunction with the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity to recognize program accomplishments while educating the local workforce about potential future contracting options.
Coleen McCormick, director of Small Business Programs at DLA Land and Maritime, said the AbilityOne Program is relevant to everyone, regardless of abilities or current health status.
“We may think this program is limited only to others, or we can’t imagine we’d ever need it,” she said. “Any one of us, at any time can be involved in a life-changing moment. Any of us may be an instant away from a serious accident or medical diagnosis.”
McCormick shared the story of one member of her team, who despite losing his vision as an adult, became one of the top performing specialists in his division. She said he was able to overcome his challenges through perseverance and the strong climate of support around him.
“This program is about all of us. It’s about the people employed through the AbilityOne Program who are able to support their families. It’s about the warfighters and the equipment they need. It’s about federal agencies and the service contracts they support,” she said.
For more information about the AbilityOne Program and how to participate, visit http://www.abilityone.gov/.