LOS ANGELES--The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District observed National Disability Employment Awareness Month Oct. 24 at the district's headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
The event was organized to help employees understand the underlying fears and barriers that impede the hiring of qualified applicants with disabilities.
This year's theme was "Inclusion Drives Innovation." Lt. Col. Pete Stambersky, acting commander of the Los Angeles District, opened the observance and acknowledged that the district could improve its efforts to employ workers with disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring and retention.
"Disability isn't just a label that identifies a person with limited abilities or functions; disability is about day-to-day living in innovative ways," Stambersky said. "We value all the distinct talents, backgrounds and experiences that each of our employees bring to the Corps. Inclusion not only drives innovation, it strengthens our Army."
Originally observed the first week in October each year as “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week,” the word “physically” was dropped in 1962 to acknowledge individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, the observance was expanded from a week to a month, and the name was changed to "National Disability Employment Awareness Month."
Olga Muncey, the special emphasis program manager for the observance, coordinated the participation of representatives from the California Department of Rehabilitation. According to the DOR website, it was established in 1963 to provide services and advocacy resulting in employment, independent living and equality for individuals with disabilities.
Ed Flores, a disability employment consultant with the department, sought to eliminate the stigma associated with disability. One out of every five Americans has a disability, he said.
"Some of us are born with a disability, but that represents less than 1 percent of all infants born," Flores said. "Some of us acquire the disability as a result of a sudden illness or injury--an automobile accident--something that in a moment changes our lives.
"But most of us age into a disability. What I wanted us to think about is how disabilities come in various forms. Some of them are obvious--you see somebody in a wheelchair. Most of them are hidden."
Guest speaker Felicia French, a regional business specialist with the department, said people with disabilities want what everyone else wants.
"We all want a higher quality of life," French said. "We can achieve that; being employed, feeling that sense of independence so that our self esteem can be built up, and we can feel very motivated, and then, of course, being treated equally."
According to Donald Lank, the Los Angeles District's Equal Employment Opportunity manager, Americans with disabilities are underrepresented in the Federal workforce. Seventy-one of the district's 665 employees in fiscal year 2017 identified as persons with a disability. That's 10 percent of the workforce and is close to the federal government's goal of 12 percent, he said.
"The Los Angeles District recognizes that reasonably accommodating individuals with disabilities is a major factor in retention," Lank said. "Last year, there were 26 requests for accommodation of which all were granted through the timely and effective interaction of employees and their supervisors."