DOD award winner reflects on DLA support of employees with disabilities

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

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John Slone, a financial systems analyst for Defense Logistics Agency Energy, was recognized this month as an outstanding Defense Department employee with a disability. But disability, he said, is merely a perception.

“DLA has a pool of people who possess great professional and personal talents waiting to be challenged,” he said. “Most of us have gone through our whole lives proving that we can not only compete, but also thrive as part of the team.”  

Slone was born in Virginia and graduated Gallaudet University in 2007, then earned a master’s degree in public policy from George Mason University in 2010 while working in various jobs, including as an aide on Capitol Hill.

Slone’s supervisor, Chief of the Business Analysis and Integration Division William Comar said Slone is always willing to share his knowledge and provide excellent customer support.  

“John is a great role model and his passion for the job always comes through when he interacts with co-workers and customers,” Comar said. “He’s recruited colleagues to come and work at DLA and they have all been great contributors.”

In 2018, Slone became acting chief of DLA Energy’s Process Management Division.

“Whenever I recognize challenges, I study to come up with potential solutions to remove the barriers that would hinder me from being as equally skilled and effective as my colleagues,” he said. “DLA is a place where I can focus on working with colleagues who have equal respect for all. As I grew professionally and built up my confidence, I recognized the only limitations are the ones that I put on myself.”

Throughout his 10 years with DLA, Slone said he’s seen agency leaders make great strides in supporting employees with disabilities. Five years ago, when DLA Distribution Pearl Harbor Deputy Commander Debra Simpson was Slone’s boss, she arranged for him to get a tablet- and desktop-based app for on-demand sign language interpretation through a live video chat.

Slone also credits former DLA Finance Director Tony Poleo with approving the service, which he said makes employees with disabilities feel included in the agency’s mission. “I can name many colleagues who took time out of their busy schedules to remove barriers to workplace success and advance the efforts of deaf and hard-of-hearing peers here at DLA,” he said.

Former DLA Energy Comptroller and DLA Finance Deputy Jean Cox and former Energy Process Management Chief Victor Wallace number among the leaders who have shown support for employees with disabilities, Slone added.

He believes DLA fosters morale and diversity through initiatives like the Workforce Recruitment Program. The WRP connects federal employers with college students and recent graduates with disabilities and benefits supervisors because there’s no cost to the agency. The program supports the DLA Strategic Plan goals to recruit and retain a diverse, talented and skilled workforce.

DLA Energy Finance supervisors have used WRP to recruit new employees based on their experience with Slone, Comar said.

Slone said he was proud to witness the March 2019 signing of a partner agreement between DLA and Gallaudet University that enables qualified future graduates to obtain full-time employment with DLA.

Slone taught deaf undergraduate students at Gallaudet University from 2012 to 2016 and continues to motivate those in the deaf and hearing-impaired community as a guest speaker and instructor. At Gallaudet, he taught a personal finance management course on skills like money management and investment management.

He also served on the Virginia Relay Advisory Council from 2012 to 2018. The council assesses new technologies that economically empower people with disabilities in municipal, state and federal levels. Slone said he helped Virginians who are deaf, hard of hearing, have speech impairments or other limitations to effectively use telecommunications to connect with hearing individuals.

In a keynote speech to the Kentucky School for the Deaf, a residential school where Slone spent his formative years before attending a mainstream high school, he told graduates that as they pursue careers, they may experience discrimination. Slone advised them to turn those situations into teachable moments by showing respect and educating others about inclusion.

Slone shares his institutional knowledge and experience with DLA colleagues as well as helping raise awareness of employees with disabilities’ needs. During virtual meetings, he asks through his interpreter that callers identify themselves.

“I’m looking at one person – I don’t hear any nuance or change in voice – male or female, or any other identifying piece of information,” he said, adding that practice is mutually beneficial as his interpreter could be female and participants don’t hear his voice. “That’s one small aspect of inclusion I’m able to foster in the workplace.”