Fort McCoy News July 22, 2016

Panel shares experiences at DPM course

STORY & PHOTO BY AIMEE MALONE
Public Affairs Staff

Fort McCoy and local community members spoke about their experiences working with people with disabilities at a discussion panel for the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute's Disability Program Management Course June 30 on post.

The course is for people responsible for recruiting, hiring, accommodating, or ensuring accessible information technology and facilities are available for people with disabilities. It covers Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) processes and disability programs, including the reasonable-accommodation process. It also stresses the importance of hiring, promoting, and retaining people with disabilities already in the workforce.

Ryan Tichenor, director of business development for Handishop Industries Inc. in Tomah, Wis., said his main goal is to change public perception about people with disabilities.

Ryan Tichenor, director of business development with Handishop Industries Inc. of Tomah, Wis., speaks to students attending the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Disability Program Management Course at Fort McCoy.
Ryan Tichenor, director of business development with Handishop
Industries Inc. of Tomah, Wis., speaks to students attending the
Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Disability Program
Management Course June 30 at Fort McCoy.

"We put the emphasis in the wrong place," Tichenor said. "We focus on the disability, the d-i-s, and I'm suggesting we focus … on the ability.

"Too often, we look at a person who comes in in a wheelchair or on crutches and say, 'Well, how are they going to hunt in the woods?'" Tichenor said. "Let's focus on the ability; let's find a way for them to hunt."

He likened a team at a workplace to a colony of bees. Bee colonies create the types of bees needed by the hive, and Tichenor said team members also know what qualities are needed in new employees, sometimes better than supervisors.

"As supervisors, what we do is we come through and say … 'we need more drones,' when in reality, we need more worker bees," Tichenor said.

He said it's important to ask team members what's actually needed when hiring for a new position. Doing that, along with focusing on what a person with a disability can do instead of what he or she can't do, could help remove some of the barriers people with disabilities face when searching for jobs.

"I'm going to ask that when you read the word disability, focus on the ability," Tichenor said.

Richard Taylor, EEO specialist and the disability program manager with the Army Reserve EEO office at Fort McCoy, said focusing on a person's abilities and doing what can be done to accommodate that person is more important than focusing on what a person can't do.

As the disability program manager, Taylor guides supervisors and managers through the reasonable-accommodation process by helping them understand the policy, what forms are needed, and what the time lines are.

"The Army puts all the onus on supervisors and managers in the reasonable-accommodation process," Taylor said. "I can't find solutions for you; you have to create those solutions."

He said every single request is different, and there is no specific set of rules for what qualifies as a reasonable accommodation. He said the supervisor and employee need to have an interactive discussion about what the problem is — whether it's with work equipment, the work environment, or something else — and what can be done to alleviate the problem.

A student attending the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Disability Program Management Course asks a panelist a question June 30 at Fort McCoy.
A student attending the Defense Equal Opportunity Management
Institute Disability Program Management Course asks a panelist a
question June 30 at Fort McCoy. Four panelists shared their experiences
working with disability programs within both the federal government
and the private sector.
Bonus photo, not in print edition

"A lot of the pushback we see is that this is going to be a lot of work … to modify schedules and equipment and everything else for this individual to accommodate them," Taylor said. "It would just be easier to go ahead and remove them for not being able to do their job, and we'll hire somebody else who doesn't have a disability."

He said it can be shortsighted to remove someone instead of going through the accommodation process because it takes time to replace personnel, and there's the possibility of an EEO complaint, which can drag on for years. Plus, Taylor said, it can be unfair to both the person with a disability and the office.

"These individuals with disabilities, 99 percent of the time, will work harder to prove … that they can do the job," Taylor said. "They'll work harder (and) longer, (and) they're more loyal to your organization."

He also encouraged supervisors to consider using the Office of Personnel Management Shared List, which is a database of candidates with disabilities who have prescreened for certain jobs, when hiring new personnel. He said a hiring official can select someone noncompetitively from the list, which is much faster than the usual process of posting the job, waiting for applicants to respond, then sorting through the list of most-qualified individuals.

Charles Weaver, the Veterans Service officer (VSO) for Monroe County, said he spends a great deal of time helping service members with disabilities.

As the VSO, he helps veterans and Family members find and apply for benefits, including disability compensation, pensions, educational benefits, and career programs.

If veterans can't work or find a job, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers vocational rehabilitation programs. "This program actually takes whatever ability that veteran has, versus their disability, and it focuses on their ability to do another job," Weaver said.

Weaver provided the example of someone who had a bad back but wanted to be a police officer. Program staff members might suggest the person consider social work instead. The program will send veterans to training or school, provide any necessary equipment, provide a housing allowance during training, and help them find jobs afterward.

He said his office also helps veterans navigate the process of getting VA medical benefits or funds to help them add accommodations to their housing.

Veterans and their Family members can apply for these programs and benefits on their own, but Weaver said it can be difficult for people to find out about them or navigate the process on their own, especially if initial claims are rejected. He encouraged people to contact him or the VSOs in the counties in which they reside for help.

Quote: I'm going to ask that when you read the word disability, focus on the ability.

David Beckmann, wildlife biologist and wildlife program manager with the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division Natural Resources Branch (NRB), said the NRB's role is to help make Fort McCoy a multiuse organization. While Fort McCoy's main focus is military training, it also incorporates conservation, commercial forestry, and outdoor recreation.

The NRB has been working to provide more outdoor-recreation opportunities to people with disabilities, Beckmann said. The biggest program is the deer-hunting opportunity available to people with disabilities.

Most landowners who participate in Wisconsin's program have a limited number of acres and often restrict where the hunter with a disability can go, Beckmann said. Fort McCoy, on the other hand, has about 30,000 acres of land open to hunting on North Post.

"That gives the disabled folks a chance to look for places where they can hunt," Beckmann said. "That's probably been the biggest success that we've heard, having that ability to go where they think they want to go."

Beckmann said the program has been very successful, growing from nine participants in 2001 to 63 during the 2015 hunt. The program can offer a morale boost for people who have had trouble getting outdoors and participating in activities they enjoy.

For one hunter, the Fort McCoy hunt was his first in more than 20 years, Beckmann said. "We got a letter from his wife saying how excited he was when he came home."

The NRB also has worked with the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation to add ADA-approved piers to fishing lakes. Beckmann said the NRB also is starting to look at expanding access to other outdoor activities, such as bird watching.
Beckmann said the NRB staff enjoys helping people find ways to spend more time outdoors.

"We've had people ask if (the program's) worth the time, and our answer is 'absolutely,'" Beckmann said.

For more information about Handishop Industries, visit its website at www.handishop.org. For more information about the Monroe County Veterans Service Office, call 608-269-8726.

For more information about the NRB, call 608-388-2252. For more information about the EEO program at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-3106.