By Opal F. Blackmon
National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), held annually each October, recognizes the many and varied contributions of employees with disabilities. Sponsored each year by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, this year’s theme, “The Right Talent, Right Now,” emphasized the Department of State’s focus on recruiting and retaining a skilled and diverse workforce, which includes employees with disabilities. The Office of Accessibility and Accommodations (OAA), which provides centralized disability services for Department employees and facilities across the globe, took the lead in hosting a variety of events in honor of NDEAM. Partnering with other offices within the Bureau of Human Resources, the Bureau of Political Affairs and the Office of Civil Rights, OAA provided resources for both employees and managers regarding disability services, Schedule A hiring, reasonable accommodations and work-life balance. Utilizing multiple platforms for their events, including Facebook Live, OAA maximized their outreach to engage a broad audience.
The keynote event featured remarks from the Under Secretary for Political Affairs David M. Hale, with additional remarks from the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Carol Z. Perez who reiterated the importance of “taking care of our people.” Director of the Office of Civil Rights Gregory Smith and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Program Manager & Diversity Coordinator David Levin also spoke at the event. OAA prepared a ceremony where Hale signed a charter for the Department’s imminent opening of an assistive technology center. The new center, which will be managed by OAA, will be a centralized location where employees can test, train and provide feedback on assistive technology solutions.
“We are thrilled to have a new center where we can provide cutting edge and effective assistive technology solutions to current and future Department of State employees,” said Jameela Raja Akbari, director of OAA. “Our hope is that the hands-on experience will allow us to provide our clients with the right accommodation more quickly.”
In addition to NDEAM outreach events held throughout the month, OAA and the Foreign Service Institute launched a revised distance learning training course, PA447 Disability and Reasonable Accommodations. The revised course focuses on recent changes in disability policy and law, as well as updated office and program information.
While NDEAM reaffirms the Department’s commitment to fostering a more inclusive workplace, it also reminds the Department to recognize and celebrate the unique talent of all employees, not just during October, but every day of every month.
Employees seeking information about disability programs and services can visit the Disability Dashboard on OpenNet.
Opal F. Blackmon is a communications management officer in the Office of Accessibility and Accommodations.