Susan Walsh / AP
When Tony Coelho wrote the Americans with Disabilities Act 31 years ago, his goal was to allow people with disabilities to join the workforce with equal opportunity for inclusion and success.
Thirty years later, the country’s largest minority group, the disabled, remains undervalued in the workforce, especially in the federal workforce.
Four years ago, the government standard We urge all institutions to promise that at least 12% of their employees are made up of people with disabilities. But even that number was below the same, given that 26% of American adults, or 61 million, have disabilities. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..
Tracking government progress has also proven difficult. Despite the 12% benchmark, Human Resources says, “We don’t regularly track or report retained data for employees with disabilities.” Government Accountability Office.. Some of the clearest numbers come from the 2020 report from GAO, where employment of persons with disabilities increased from 2011 to 2017, but with retention rate, training and reasonable accommodation efforts. It turns out that more work needs to be done to enhance it.
Coelho states that progress has been made. Almost all presidential candidates submitted a disability policy plan in the 2020 elections. For the first time, all White House press conferences have sign language interpreters, and the White House National Policy Council is the first director of disability policy.
However, supporters say it is important to continue the momentum. The government is the largest employer in the country Model workplace For people with disabilities for decades Before The ADA has been signed. The Byden administration has promised that their employment and appointments will reflect what America is like, but supporters say that changes are not just about employment practices, but about changes in workplace culture about how people with disabilities are perceived and how they are addressed. Accessibility within the framework of fairness and inclusiveness, which is said to be measured by the construction of the workplace.
Some workers say they are in a non-uniform playground
Barry Tamma / AP
When President George HW Bush signed the ADA 31 years ago this month, the law required that people with disabilities take reasonable accommodation to carry out essential aspects of their work.
But Cindy Otis says it didn’t happen to her.
Otis, a former CIA analyst and wheelchair user, said during his 10-year career at the CIA, he faced many barriers within the agency that made it difficult to carry out the basic aspects of her work. say. She also says she had the additional stress of not wanting to bring up many of these restrictions, for fear of complaining or being considered less capable than her colleagues.
Several times at the beginning of her career, Otis says she had to seek help to open the door of a heavy vault that was impossible to open from a sitting position. Then she says that when she asked her to be put in every day, she was starting to irritate people and should avoid being seen as a “troublemaker.”
“As a brand new, desperate kid just graduated from a graduate school with a lot of student debt, I already felt my work was at stake. Putting an automatic door opener in the safe It took six months to put the reputation at risk. Doors, ”says Otis. “From the beginning, you are on a non-uniform arena.”
Even the simplest fixes took years to implement, Otis says. There was not enough parking space for the handicap. In the cubicle where the staff worked, there was not enough space to move the wheelchair and it was difficult to communicate with nearby colleagues. By the time she left the CIA, she says she didn’t yet have a handicap-accessible bathroom on her side of the building.
Otis says the challenges she faced were exhausted and eventually she became one of her reasons. Decided to leave 2017 CIA.
Technology accessibility can also be an issue
Christine Freschner, who worked for both the State Department and the CIA and left the federal workforce in 2019, explained similar barriers and frustration.
Blind Mr. Freshner said he had to wait an hour before the guards could write a brief explanation when he came late at night because he couldn’t access a particular door with a turn dial lock. increase. She also states that some computers used by some institutions did not include assistive technology. “Because it is assumed that adding them can increase security risks.”
Recently she is working with a group Proposed Comprehensive America Executive order This makes the technology more accessible in the intelligence community.
“Information security remains the most important goal, but we are trying to give government agencies the option to prioritize accessibility alongside information security regulations,” says Freshner.
In a statement to the NPR, a spokesperson for the Director of National Intelligence’s Office, which oversees institutions in the information community, said that promoting “greater diversity, fairness and inclusiveness” was the “top priority” of the Director of National Intelligence. Said there is. , Avril Haynes.
“As she said, the intelligence community needs to foster an environment in which all professionals can succeed. This is the basis of American values and [intelligence community’s] Mission. “
Roger Stanitsuke, head of the CIA’s Diversity & Inclusion Office, said the CIA “is committed to ensuring the accessibility we deserve for our executives.” “We are improving access to facilities and technology around the world and increasing awareness of people with disabilities across our employees,” he added.
Otis says some of the attitudes she experienced result in seeing disability as a burden on the workplace.
“If that person has a disability, that’s not something you have to overcome as an organization. You have the resources to enable them to do the work they hire, that is, to protect the country. Must be provided, “she says. Is called.
“”[Disability] It is one side of human beings. And in some cases, it can actually be an asset, “says Otis.
What does the progress look like?
In June, President Biden made a drastic signature Executive order Aiming to improve government diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility by expanding employment, training and retention efforts and establishing a more data-driven approach to diversifying the federal workforce. is.
Coelho said the next step needs to be more focused on enforcement.
“I’ve always said that ADA is a great law, but it doesn’t mean anything without enforcement. It’s just a piece of paper. It’s the same with executive orders. Unless it’s enforced, they’re on a piece of paper. I’m sorry. “”
Mariatown, president of the American Association of Persons with Disabilities, said measuring what progress would look like 31 years after ADA means admitting that people with disabilities, including the White House, are everywhere in society. I say.
In some areas she is encouraged. Mr Town said that 3% of Biden’s appointments were disabled, which was still “very low,” but she points out that this was the first time there was even traceable data.
However, she says the pandemic has exposed obvious weaknesses in other regions. She points out how the disabled community has increased opportunities to work from home for decades.
“It’s frustrating that the disabled community has been promoting these accommodations for a long time and has been consistently rejected, and when the moment comes when everyone needs to work remotely, it happens instantly. increase.”
“I think it shows how far we have to go,” says Town.
People with disabilities say they are undervalued in the federal workforce: NPR
Source link People with disabilities say they are undervalued in the federal workforce: NPR