Thursday, December 9, 2010

Defense Department says it plans to better support disabled employees

From American Forces Press Service:

WASHINGTON -– The Defense Department employs about 45,000 workers with disabilities, but needs to boost awareness of a program to support, hire and retain them, the DOD’s director of disability programs said today.

On the eve of the 30th Annual Department of Defense Disability Awards ceremony, “Talent Has No Boundaries,” Stephen King said the Defense Department is in a review phase to identify and support employees with disabilities.

“There’s a lot of diversity in individuals with disabilities,” King said. “And they range from learning disabilities to psychiatric [conditions], post-traumatic stress syndrome, which can really show itself in many ways in the workforce, from short-term memory loss or trouble focusing on a task, to individuals who are missing a limb or have another mobility impairment. A disabled individual could be blind or hard of hearing. It runs the gamut.”

The number of defense civilian and military employees who are disabled could be higher; however, information is disclosed on a voluntary basis. But accurate statistics are key to knowing which defense programs are effective and which need extra resources, King said. “You cannot do that without the statistics to back it up.”

“We know part of the changes, we need to make employees aware of the importance of self-identification because those statistics help us determine if the programs in place are effective, need to be expanded, or resources need to be better utilized some other place,” he added.

The voluntary participation of individuals with disabilities has declined since the program’s inception in 1987, King noted. He isn’t sure why the numbers have dropped over the years, he said. Disabled vets coming on board, for example, might elect not to disclose a condition.

“Although we are hiring more disabled veterans, it’s not the increase you’d expect,” King said.

“The support for individuals with disabilities just hasn’t led to the results we were expecting,” he continued. “So, it’s something that requires further evaluation, [and] to think outside of the box.”

The DOD has always actively recruited individuals with disabilities, King said. Veterans have preference in applying for federal government jobs, and disabled veterans have an even higher priority for being hired into a job for which they qualify.

“We’re not cutting back, we’re not just getting started, and we need to do it a little more strategically,” he said. “Now we’re reviewing our procedures, programs, recruiting initiatives, and we do need to make improvements.”

The issue of voluntary disclosure is not the only concern, King acknowledged.

“Statistics show people with disabilities are three times as likely to leave the federal government as those who are not disabled. Agencies have to figure out why that is,” he said.

An Executive Order recently signed by President Barack Obama requires federal agencies to create a five-year plan to increase their participation in hiring individuals with disabilities, in addition to retaining them, King said.

“We’re in the process of developing our plan now, he said. “It’s going to require unprecedented collaboration between the Defense Department, the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity,” he said.