By Lanessa Hill
USAG Public Affairs
The Fort Detrick Equal Employment and Opportunity office recently recognized individuals who continued to champion for people with disabilities. During a two hour event here, attendees sat quietly and reflected on their personal behaviors and thoughts. Guest speaker, Mr. Stephen King, Director of Disability Programs at the U.S. Department of Defense stated, "You see it takes us to know someone with a disability before we look beyond it".
Sometimes these perceptions can affect the maximum potential of our workforce. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This marks the 66th year our nation recognizes the efforts and abilities of those with disabilities.
The theme for this year is "Profit by Investing in Workers with Disabilities" which highlights the difficulty many with disabilities face when searching for employment. Most people with disabilities want to work, but find it extremely difficult in obtaining employment. In fact, many are unemployed or underemployed, meaning they are working below their education level.
For the federal government, five percent of its workforce has a disability but plans are in action to increase that number by adding 100,000 more in the next five years. As Franklin D. Roosevelt quoted, "We know that equality of individual ability has never existed and never will, but we do insist that equality of opportunity still must be sought."
That is exactly what the Department of Defense is working towards, increasing the number of opportunities and highlighting their contributions and abilities. Getting past what is seen and allowing people to feel accepted and be a part of the mission.
Department of Defense hiring officials are authorized to use special hiring authorities when considering certain people with disabilities (those who have a severe physical, cognitive or emotional disability, or a history of having such disabilities or are perceived as having such disabilities.)
If you or someone you know is interested in being considered under certain hiring authorities they must contact either a state vocational or Department of Veterans Affairs rehabilitation counselor and request their assistance.
For hiring officials, by selecting through such hiring authorities it is possible to have a new employee in weeks not months. Through programs such as the Workforce Recruitment Program DoD is now recruiting individuals with disabilities at colleges and universities. Those selected to be a part of this program are highly educated and highly qualified individuals. Last year over 500 were hired through this program.
Entertainment included folk artist Mr. Tomy Wright who embraces contemporary folk as his vehicle of artistic expression after serving 30 years in the military and Frederick resident Ms. Charisa Billigmeir who was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder ten years ago and plays the piano as a way to cope. Both artists provided personal stories and stressed the importance of highlighting DoD programs and Federal Government initiatives.
One of the most inspirational stories was told by Dr. Quiambao who has been a physician here for 17 years. He went from having chest pains, to calling 911 and diagnosing himself. One thing led to another and he was told he wouldn't make it. Well he did. He is now in a wheelchair and after being told he wouldn't walk again, he lifted both legs and said "they're back."
He said there is no place he would rather work than here at Fort Detrick. He has seen a different side of everyone around him and instead of being like most of us who dread coming to work on Mondays he looks forward to being around positive people. It is just that positivity that made him feel like he was accepted and kept his hopes high.
DoD and other federal agencies are working hard to make sure that others who are missing limbs, in wheelchairs or who have mental illnesses can say they too love coming to work and being a part of something huge. More information on DoD efforts and programs can be found at: http://www.whs.mil/hrd/Apply/SpecialEmployment/PeopleWithDiabilities.cfm