Fort McCoy News October 28, 2016

EEO speaker: Focus on ability, not disability

BY AIMEE MALONE
Public Affairs staff

In order to hire and retain people with disabilities, it's important to focus on what can be done instead of what can't, said Richard Taylor, guest speaker at Fort McCoy's Oct. 20 observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Taylor is an Equal Employment Opportunity specialist and Disability Program manager with the U.S. Army Reserve and services the Fort McCoy civilian workforce. In his position, he provides information on the Army's reasonable accommodation policy and Schedule A hiring; helps supervisors and employees walk through ideas for effective accommodations; and gathers and analyzes data connected to reasonable accommodations, building accessibility, and disability statistics.

Taylor said an important part of his job is "helping supervisors understand their employee will be able to perform much more effectively if provided that reasonable accommodation."

Richard Taylor, Equal Employment Opportunity specialist and Disability Program manager with the U.S. Army Reserve, who also supports the Fort McCoy civilian workforce, gives his presentation Oct. 20 during the Fort McCoy observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month at McCoy’s Community Center.
Richard Taylor, Equal Employment Opportunity specialist and Disability
Program manager with the U.S. Army Reserve, who also supports the
Fort McCoy civilian workforce, gives his presentation Oct. 20 during the
Fort McCoy observance of National Disability Employment Awareness
Month at McCoy's Community Center.
Photo by Scott T. Sturkol

A common misconception is that reasonable accommodations are expensive and complicated, he said. A supervisor may be reluctant to hire a person with a disability because of the perception that hiring someone without one will be cheaper and easier.
Taylor said $96 is the average cost of the reasonable accommodations he processed in fiscal year 2016.

"The vast majority of (accommodations) are completely free," Taylor said. For example, the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program provides assistive technology, devices, and support services to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies with partnership agreements. Because the program is centrally funded, these accommodations cost organizations nothing.

While some requests can be complicated, that isn't always the case, Taylor said. "An accommodation can be requested, assessed, and provided to the employee in less than 20 minutes" in some situations, he said.

Ergonomic devices are the most-requested accommodations, he said. Telework is the second most-common accommodation, followed by modified work schedules, neither of which cost an office anything, he said.

Taylor said that while he can help guide supervisors and employees through the decision-making process, only the supervisor can approve an accommodation. He encouraged supervisors not to be intimidated by the reasonable accommodations process, saying that $96 is a very reasonable cost to keep someone employed. He also said effective communication between the employee and supervisor is vital to identifying an accommodation that will work for both the employee and the employer.

In both the public and private sectors, the United States is falling short in employing people with disabilities and keeping them employed, Taylor said.

"The rate of unemployment for everybody has gone down drastically (in the past few years)," Taylor said. "The rate of unemployment for individuals with disabilities is stagnant."

As of September, the national unemployment rate (the percentage of people who are actively seeking work and not working) was 8.7 percent for people with disabilities and 4.6 percent for people without disabilities, according to the Department of Labor. Only 19.8 percent of people with disabilities participate in the workforce, compared to 68.7 percent of people without disabilities.

"There are many individuals out there who just continue to go back to school because every time they try to get a job, nobody will hire them," Taylor said. "Can you imagine the education some of these individuals have that they could bring to your workforce? Years and years of knowledge and studies, but yet they continue to get the door closed on them."

According to President Bill Clinton's Executive Order 13163 from 2000, 2 percent of the federal workforce should be people with targeted disabilities, such as blindness, paralysis, and more. To reach that goal and to help people with disabilities find work, Taylor recommended using the Schedule A hiring authority.

Schedule A can work in two different ways. When submitting an application through USAJOBS.gov, an applicant can select "Schedule A" and provide the supporting documents, which usually allows the applicant to be considered alongside current government employees and veterans.

Schedule A applicants also can submit their credentials and desired work locations to a central list at each agency. Supervisors can request names from that list when jobs become available and fill them from the Schedule A list without posting the job through USAJOBS.gov. The Selective Placement Program Coordinator for the Army, as listed on USAJOBS.gov, is Consuelo Roberts. Employers may contact their servicing Civilian Personnel Advisory Centers for additional information about using Schedule A noncompetitive hiring authority.

This second method is underutilized, Taylor said, because generally people don't know about it.

"I recommend, if you have an opportunity, to look into Schedule A," he said.

Taylor said the important thing to remember when hiring and working with people with disabilities was to "focus on the ability and not on the 'dis.'" Focusing on what someone can do and what is needed for a job can promote the inclusion of people with disabilities.

First Sgt. Leah R. Mariano with the Staff Sgt. Todd R. Cornell Noncommissioned Officer Academy said the presentation was informative and enjoyable.

"I like when he said to focus on the ability," Mariano said.

Jeremy Crow with the Fort McCoy Plans, Analysis and Integration Office also enjoyed the presentation.

"I thought it provided some information that will be very useful for supervisors," Crow said. He said he hoped the information and presentation will encourage supervisors to hire more people with disabilities.

For more information about the disability program, call 608-388-3106. For more information about Equal Opportunity observances, call 608-388-6153.