Accessibility is about more than a ramp in front of a building or a sign language interpreter at a concert.
October marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year’s theme, “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion” reflects the importance of ensuring that those with disabilities can fully access employment and be involved in their communities.
In the Office of Information and Technology, the Reasonable Accommodation Office is proud to recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month and celebrate employees across the organization with disabilities, educate others on inclusivity, and inspire advocacy for accommodation in the workplace.
Developing a Holistic Approach to Workforce Modernization
Scott Barrett, an OIT National Reasonable Accommodation Consultant and Reasonable Accommodation Office Team Lead, believes in the importance of celebrating diversity of thought in the workplace.
“It is unrealistic to think that ideas come from one type of individual,” he says. “By including various perspectives, cultures, beliefs, etc., you develop a holistic approach to workforce modernization.”
Sarah Samson, a Special Projects Manager in Reasonable Accommodation, echoes the sentiment.
“We all have different identities, backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, and passion that make us the individuals we are,” she notes. “It’s important to treat people how they want to be treated because each individual knows what’s best for themselves. Whether it’s calling someone by their preferred pronouns or taking initiative to making your workplace more inclusive and accessible through providing reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities.”
Through Reasonable Accommodation, OIT employees can request accommodations that allow them to fully participate in the application process, perform essential aspects of their job, and enjoy the benefits of employment. Employees may also request training on reasonable accommodations to help make their teams and workplaces more accessible.
For Lisa Swanson, a Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator and one of the newest members of the team, creating equitable workspaces is a highlight of the job.
“I support a thriving workforce community by using an evidence-based interactive process model that’s compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” she says. “I’m looking forward to delivering the exceptional customer service experience VA employees have come to know and expect from the Reasonable Accommodation team.”
Feeling Empowered at Work and at Home
As for the employees supported by the office’s efforts, many state that their experiences have allowed them more freedom with their careers and wish that more people understood the potential that individuals with disabilities have.
Bob Henderson, a management analyst and Equal Employment Opportunity representative, notes that acceptance as an equal, qualified, experienced team member is key in the workforce.
“I’m important to all at work, home, and in my community,” he says. “When I’m included, I feel like a very important part of our Veterans lives, serving them despite my disability. Our disabled Veterans can see themselves as successful. I want to challenge people to stand up and support all members of your team and see how valuable we are to each other.”
Rosimar Hernandez, a Recreational Therapist at the Lake City VA Medical Center, makes it her mission to lead by example and educate colleagues and patients about the myths and realities of diverse functional abilities.
“It’s imperative to be mindful that the word “accessible” does not refer exclusively to physical accessibility,” she says. “We need to take into consideration both visible and non-visible disabilities in order to truly offer an accessible work environment to all our employees. This could look like having sufficient office space for a wheelchair to easily be maneuvered, all the way to offering sign language interpreters or closed captioning during live webinars. It’s important to think ahead of a need, rather than waiting for a need to arise in order to take action.”
As National Disability Employment Awareness Month kicks off, the Digital VA team is taking the opportunity to focus on capitalizing on team members’ individual strengths while supporting each other's differences. Collaborative teams made up of individuals of differing abilities, perspectives, and backgrounds drive the cutting-edge innovations that Veterans expect from the Department. It is only through celebrating our unique abilities that we can create products and services that best reflect and meet the needs of the rich diversity of our nation’s Veterans.
Our commitment to digital and IT transformation is shaped by daily dedication to customer service and the close collaboration of our workforce, managers, and leaders. Ready to join us in improving Veterans’ care? Check out all current information and technology career opportunities on DigitalVA. You can also contact VA’s Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer at 512-326-6600, Monday thru Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST or by submitting a resume to VACareers@va.gov.