by HRSA Administrator Mary K. Wakefield
October 26, 2010
Thanks, Erin (Whitney, Disability Program Coordinator in HRSA’s Office of Equal Opportunity, Civil Rights and Diversity Management), and welcome, everyone.
We’re here today to highlight National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and to renew our commitment to increase employment of people with disabilities in the Federal workplace. This month’s theme across government conveys our message in a nutshell: “Talent Has No Boundaries: Workforce Diversity Includes Workers with Disabilities.”
I want to thank June Horner and our Office of Equal Opportunity, Civil Rights and Diversity Management for hosting this event. Erin, who recently became our disability program coordinator, has a strong background as an advocate for individuals with disabilities. A couple of weeks ago, she led the first meeting of a reinstated HRSA committee for employees with disabilities, from which I look forward to receiving a lot of helpful input.
June’s leadership and Erin’s expertise and determination have already expanded our hiring of workers with disabilities, and their actions reflect my own hiring priorities.
Since mid-summer at HRSA, we have raised the number of employees with targeted disabilities from just 8 to 18 – and we hope to bring on 5 more employees with disabilities by the end of the year.
Right now in Parklawn’s 14th floor hallway, you’ll often see one of my speechwriters getting around on a scooter. Another veteran writer in our Office of Communications is visually impaired and uses all sorts of high-tech assistive technology to do her job.
In the Division of Transplantation we have a young woman who navigates the building with the help of her guide dog. Another young woman, a project officer in the Office of Rural Health Policy, works with her service dog.
In the Bureau of Health Professions you may encounter one of their employees coming to meetings with a sign-language interpreter.
I’m proud of what we've done at HRSA to bring these talented employees onboard. But frankly, this is no more than how it should be. HRSA’s workforce should naturally reflect the broad public that we are here to serve.
Many of you know that on July 26 President Obama issued an Executive Order to increase Federal employment of individuals with disabilities. In response, the Office of Personnel Management directed all Federal Agencies – we are collectively, the Nation’s largest employer – to double their number of workers with targeted disabilities from a government-wide 1 percent to 2 percent. That’s a goal that June and Erin and I, and all of HRSA’s leadership are working to meet.
In his National Disability Employment Awareness Month Proclamation, President Obama wrote that, quote: “No individual in our Nation should face unnecessary barriers to success, and no American with a disability should be limited in his or her desire to work.”
One of the “unnecessary barriers,” to which the President refers, was addressed in an Oct. 5 GAO report. The report stated that “the most significant barrier keeping people with disabilities from the workplace is attitudinal.” It went on to say that “a fundamental need … for cultural change within the agencies is critical…”
At HRSA, we want to be agents of that “cultural change” – we want to make sure that workers with disabilities have the opportunity to become a contributor to and an integral part of our mission.
This year, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s time for the Federal Government to step up recruitment and retention from among the 54 million Americans living with disabilities. Actually, it’s about time. It’s overdue. And as a matter of fact, this topic has been a fairly consistent one in our discussions at HRSA senior staff meetings – and rightly so.
We must continue to challenge ourselves to become a truly inclusive workforce. Illustrating his support and encouragement of our pursuit of this aim, President Obama signed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act earlier this month.
The law is intended, as the President put it, “to make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or live with a visual impairment to do what many of us take for granted … from navigating a TV or DVD menu to sending an email on a smart phone.” He added, “We’ve come a long way. But even today, after all the progress that we’ve made, too many Americans with disabilities are still measured by what folks think they can’t do, instead of what we know they can do.” More accessible technology will add tremendously to what individuals with disabilities CAN do in the workplace.
As HRSA administrator, I want our agency on the front line of Federal efforts to integrate assistive technology into the workplace wherever it is needed, and to increase access to information by all who seek it. This technology includes advances in closed captioning, delivery of emergency information, video description and advanced communications. I firmly believe that what benefits the community of people with disabilities also benefits the public at large, including the Federal workforce. We’re all in this together!
With that, I want to thank our guests and all of our HRSA employees who are here for joining us today, and I thank you for your efforts to help individuals with disabilities join Federal service.