News | Nov. 2, 2021

Disability Employment Awareness Month Program focuses on inclusion in the workplace

By Stefanie Hauck DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs

Listening to just the audio of then 12-year-old Christopher Duffley singing the National Anthem at a 2013 Boston Red Sox baseball game, you would think he was Harry Connick Jr., or a young Michael Jackson and not the small red-headed autistic and blind boy who was seen on the screen at the 2021 Defense Federal Community National Disability Employment Awareness Month hybrid program at the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime Operations Center Auditorium on Oct. 20.

Duffley, now 20, hasn’t let his physical and mental limitations define him. He’s now an acclaimed soul singer, who’s spreading his message around the world that anything is possible.

DLA Land and Maritime Land Supplier Operations Deputy Director Don Schulze, who serves as the People With Disabilities Employment Program Executive Champion kicked off the panel discussion remarking on how amazing Duffley’s story is and how it’s one of many examples of people with disabilities doing amazing things if given the chance.

And DLA Land and Maritime is cultivating a culture of doing just that.

“Here at Land and Maritime, more than 20% of our workforce identify themselves as having a disability…that equals 541 associates, a net increase of 13 from last year,” Schulze said.

This year’s theme was "Inclusion: Not Just Employment and Accommodation.” The event was hosted by the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity’s People With Disabilities Employment Program.

DLA Land Supplier Operations Contract Specialist and panelist Mindy Cook was well supported by many at DLA Land and Maritime in her quest to participate in Goalball in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo this past summer. Her team earned a silver medal and she attributes her success there to DLA.

“It was an absolute honor. Goalball is my passion and to be able to wear the stars and stripes while playing goalball on the world’s biggest stage brought me so much joy and to be able to earn a silver medal-…-and share that with DLA and our country has brought me so much pride,” Cook said.

Wearing her official U.S. Paralympic gear on stage, she noted she was in close contact with her supervisor and chain of command throughout the whole process and she not only met her job requirements but exceeded them.

“This (experience) only reinforced my knowledge that DLA is dedicated to people with disabilities and what’s really cool is DLA has set the groundwork for my story to grow. Because of DLA, Goalball has reached a whole new audience.”

“And I’m able to show others that anything is possible with a little bit of help,” she added.

DLA Land Supplier Operations Purchasing Agent Jeanie McGarvey stressed that it’s important to consider an individual with a disability’s needs ahead of time, acting in a proactive manner and, ensuring true inclusion. 

“Accommodation is they tell you what they need and you provide it because it was asked for. Inclusion is doing it without being asked,” McGarvey said. 

Anticipating an individual’s needs before they need it is key to their individual success in the workplace.

“Thinking ahead of time of what their needs are, anticipating them and not waiting for the ask but being prepared to be there to include them,” she added. 

An example would be providing gluten-free cake for someone at a party instead of an alternate food like fruit.

“Inclusion is making it so there’s hardly any difference,” McGarvey said. 

She advised that going the extra mile to make someone feel included has benefits for all.

“Stepping into someone else’s shoes will enhance their experience…but we better ourselves because we learn about other people’s lives and we gain the perspective we wouldn’t have otherwise,” she added.

DLA has been a leader in inclusion within the Department of Defense. The agency’s commitment to hiring, promoting, and supporting employees with disabilities earned it top honors at the 41st Annual Secretary of Defense Disability Awards Ceremony at the Pentagon Oct. 7.

Director of DLA Land and Maritime’s Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Penny Copp said that DLA Land and Maritime makes routine use of Schedule A to hire and retain employees with disabilities and noted that her two fellow panelists were hired in that way. She noted that Schedule A is one of the most successful ways to include those with disabilities in the DLA Land and Maritime workforce.

“Statistics show that most employees who are hired under disability employment programs tend to be some of the most committed employees to the organization. They foster innovation because they’re bringing a different way of thinking about how to get something done and they tend to like to be challenged,” Copp said.

McGarvey remarked how without Schedule A, she wouldn’t have been able to obtain a position at DLA Land and Maritime but since being hired on a year ago, she has excelled at her position as a purchasing agent in Land Supplier Operations.

She added that people with disabilities do things differently but often move the needle further.

“It’s not a less than or something that’s wrong. It’s just that we’re doing things differently,” Cook said.

Copp said providing tailored supports and offering opportunities to those she calls differently abled is a win-win for the organization as well as the individual.

“To be able to extend opportunities to those differently abled has exponential benefits, not just for the organization but for the person,” she said.

She added that differently abled people want an opportunity to serve as much as anyone else.

“To give a person an opportunity to reach their maximum potential. That’s amazing and it’s something we want to extend to as many people as we can,” Copp said.

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.

DLA Land and Maritime Purchasing Agent Ron Gillespie served as the Master of Ceremony.

A sign-language interpreter was present throughout the event.