Reasonable accommodations help agency workers thrive

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

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The Defense Logistics Agency continually leads the way as an employer of choice regarding equal employment opportunities by garnering awards in all Workforce Recruitment Program categories and the Secretary of Defense award for employer of individuals with disabilities for the past three years.

Agencywide use of reasonable accommodations is one reason for DLA’s success. RAs are changes in the work environment or in the way a job is performed that enable a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of a position, said Disability Program Manager and EEO Specialist Nancy Rivera.

“Some people have a disability but don’t require an RA. It’s more about functional limitations that affect the person’s ability to perform the essential functions of the job,” she said.

Examples of RAs include assistive technology and modification of equipment or devices, modified work schedules, telework and alternate supervisory methods. Employees who require assistance performing the essential functions of their job because of a disability can request an RA orally or by filling out DLA Form 1887.

Disability program coordinators throughout DLA are trained to assist employees and decision makers through the RA process. First-line supervisors have the final say in most cases, with a few exceptions involving telework approval authorities. Rivera stressed that supervisors are bound by confidentiality.

“Sometimes individuals will tell their coworkers, but they don’t need to. It’s between the supervisor and the employee,” she said.

Latonya Beach, a procurement analyst with DLA Energy, has been transparent about her bipolar disorder diagnosis in 2014 and how it led her to seek an RA. Her preference was to approach her supervisor about her disability and to get assistance.

“In my case, I asked to telework an extra day,” said Beach, who had been teleworking twice a week.

Beach wasn’t always aware of how an RA could relieve her tension and boost her performance. The stress of her prior work environment and other ailments caused her bipolar disorder to exacerbate, which made concentrating on work overwhelming, she said.

“Sometimes I needed to walk away but couldn’t,” she said, adding that when she wore earbuds to concentrate, she felt her coworkers were looking at her, judging her.

“That was something I dealt with – paranoia, people asking if I was OK,” she said. “I’d rather be somewhere I could just work and not have to worry about what other people may be thinking.”

Employees who have been recently diagnosed with a disability and are experiencing difficulties and functional limitations may have trouble accepting and communicating their needs for accommodations, Rivera said.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to acknowledge when one has a disability, especially when it’s new,” she said.

Managers, supervisors and personnel involved in hiring decisions must understand the role they play in facilitating an inclusive environment and commitment to people and culture objectives in DLA’s Strategic Plan. Rivera said when supervisors observe changes in an employee’s performance, they should suggest the possibility of an RA.

As in Beach’s case, telework and alternate work schedules are other accommodations supervisors can offer.

“It’s something I’m using that’s not costing the government anything in the sense that the utilities are from my home,” Beach said. “I’m performing and my supervisor can get in touch with me via Skype, phone and email.”

Rivera said although mandatory biannual RA training is available through the Learning Management System, more face-to-face instruction could help alleviate misunderstandings, especially in the case of invisible disabilities like Beach’s.

Beach is grateful for the benefits she’s derived from the RA process.

“When you’re able to focus, people see what you’re capable of,” she said. “I’ve even had people tell me I don’t look so tired, that I look so much better. I’ve lost weight and am able to focus on my health.

“It may be more work for some supervisors but in the end, it’s adjusting – and we all have to do that,” she added.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first law to require federally funded employers to provide reasonable accommodations. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 later extended reasonable accommodations to the private sector with an amendment in 2008. Executive Order 13164, published in 2000, also requires federal agencies to establish written procedures regarding reasonable accommodations.

More guidance on RAs is available through disability program coordinators, DLA Instruction 1440.01, DLA SOP 1440.01-01, and: