By Opal Blackmon and Amanda J. Richard
Each October, employers in the public and private sectors are encouraged to recognize employees with disabilities’ varied contributions by celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Administered by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, this year’s 75th observance of NDEAM coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act—key legislation prohibiting the discrimination of individuals with disabilities.
Commemorating both anniversaries, the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s Office of Accessibility and Accommodations (GTM/OAA) and the Office of Civil Rights (S/OCR) held a virtual event centered on this year’s NDEAM theme, “Increasing Access and Opportunity,” Oct. 8. Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Carol Z. Perez provided opening remarks touching on the history of NDEAM and the importance of inclusion.
“Especially in hard times, it’s important that we remember the moments on our collective journey towards creating a more perfect union, and that includes our employees with disabilities,” said Perez. “All of us virtually here today share a commitment to shape and build a more inclusive environment, and we want the Department [of State] to embody our nation’s values. We want our workforce to reflect the richness and diversity of the American people.”
Perez also announced the projected opening date of the Department’s state-of-the-art Access Center, Dec. 3, which will provide cutting-edge technology and hands-on accessibility services for employees with disabilities.
A panel discussion followed, moderated by GTM/OAA Director Jameela Raja Akbari, which included a conversation about access and opportunity with Department employees Grayson Shor and Alexander Barrasso. Barrasso is a Foreign Service officer and program director in the Office of Program Management of the Ministry of Interior at Embassy Riyadh. Shor, a deputy action officer in the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, participated in the Workforce Recruitment Program early in his career—a program that provides internship opportunities to individuals with disabilities. Shor discussed being part of the Americans with Disabilities Act generation, and how society is stronger when incorporating not just diversity of race, gender, and sexual preference but also physical conditions.
“I think that in this era of tech logic innovation and development, platforms and devices are often designed with one physical disposition in mind that does not incorporate the diverse situations of the over 1 billion people with a disability worldwide,” said Shor. “If we can equally create access for one, we can create access for all.”
S/OCR Director Gregory Smith provided closing remarks to the program, acknowledging GTM/OAA and S/OCR’s shared goal in promoting equal opportunity, inclusion, and “empowering all to be their true selves, to represent and contribute to the Department of State authentically.”
The Department is committed to building a workforce that reflects America’s diversity and leverages the creativity of diverse, talented groups to advance America’s foreign policy priorities—which includes individuals with disabilities. Through inclusive policies and practices, and by ensuring access to services and state-of-the-art assistive technology, the Department is better equipped than ever to hire the best talent for vital positions.
Opal Blackmon is the communications management officer in the Office of Accessibility and Accommodations. Amanda J. Richard is the multimedia editor of State Magazine.