CDC Strives to Expand Opportunities
Published: October 29, 2008
CDC Director Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MPH, speaks with Kevin Connolly prior to his keynote address at CDC's Disability Employment Awareness Month program.
October 1, 2008, marked the beginning of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In his proclamation, the President reaffirmed the Nation's commitment to ensuring that all citizens are ensured equal opportunity in the workforce.
"By expanding employment opportunities and fighting false perceptions that hinder people living with disabilities from joining the workforce, we can uphold America's moral values, strengthen our economy, and make America a more hopeful place," read the proclamation.
There are more than 54 million Americans with disabilities, a full 20 percent of the U.S. population. Almost half of these individuals have a severe disability, affecting their ability to see, hear, walk, or perform other basic functions of life. These disabilities also affect more than 25 million family caregivers and millions more who provide aid and assistance to people with disabilities. Persons with disabilities face great challenges in today's society; but, perhaps no greater challenge faces them than the right to employment.
"CDC understands the challenges that persons with disabilities face; not only with employment but also in obtaining the services and access needed to have a fulfilling quality of life," said CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH. "We share the President's commitment to equal opportunity, and as the Nation's premier public health agency, CDC should strive to lead the federal government in hiring, retaining and promoting our disabled employees. However, I will be the first to recognize that we are still a long way from achieving this goal."
As part of CDC's Disability Employment Awareness Month program, Kevin Connolly spoke with members of the Agency's workforce as an example of how everyday people challenge us to move beyond our limitations to achieve amazing results.
Connolly was born in 1985 without legs, but that has not stopped him from excelling in skiing, photography, skateboarding and travelling the world. Whether it's a Silver Medal at the 2007 X-Games, or becoming the 2004 Montana State Champion and National Qualifier in Policy Debate, Connelly meets his objective "To constantly push and change the way people view disability as it's related to art, athletics, and lifestyle."
Kevin Connolly shares his travel experiences with CDC employees during the Disability Employment Awareness Month program. Connelly, who was born without legs, has travelled the world documenting people's reactions to him through his photography. These reactions are the focus of his Rolling Exhibit.
"I was born without legs," said Connolly. "This is all I've known, and to me, it's not really a big deal. I think it was called a 'sporadic birth defect,' which is basically the doctors saying they don't know what happened."
Connelly spoke about growing up and learning to cope with the challenges of having been born without legs, and more importantly, dealing with the perceptions of others.
"Everyone tries to create a story in their heads to explain the things that baffle them," said Connelly in a statement from therollingexhibition.com. "For the same reason we want to know how a magic trick works, or how mystery novel ends, we want to know how someone different, strange, or disfigured came to be as they are. Everyone does it. It's natural. It's curiosity."
This curiosity is the focus of Connolly's Rolling Exhibit where he has travelled the world photographing people's reactions to him.
"Kevin is an amazing young man who redefines the meaning and our understanding about what it means to be a person with a disability," said Gilbert Camacho, director, Office of Dispute Resolution and Equal Employment Opportunity. "He challenges us to examine the biases that we may have and which confront persons with disabilities daily."
CDC Joins LEAD
In 2006, the federal government launched a new initiative titled LEAD (Leadership for the Employment of Americans with Disabilities). LEAD is a national outreach and education campaign to raise awareness about the declining numbers of people with disabilities in federal employment, to educate federal agencies and individuals with disabilities about special hiring authorities for individuals with targeted disabilities, and to provide information and resources on reasonable accommodation.
However, despite efforts to increase the number of employees with disabilities in the federal workforce, the percentage of federal employees with targeted disabilities has declined since it reached its peak of 1.24 percent in fiscal year 1994 (32,337 employees). In fiscal year 2007, federal employees with targeted disabilities comprised only 0.92 percent (23,993 employees) of the federal workforce. Although the federal workforce has increased by 128,973 employees from FY 1998 to FY 2007, a net increase of 5.2%, the number of federal employees with targeted disabilities decreased from 28,035 in FY 1998 to 23,993 in FY 2007, a net decrease of 14.42%.
Gerberding has directed the Office of Dispute Resolution and Equal Employment Opportunity Office, Office of Workforce and Career Development, the Diversity office, and the Atlanta Human Resources Center to take the necessary steps to lead CDC in becoming a "model employer for persons with disabilities." These offices have been in the fore-front of addressing many of the Agency's challenges such as developing a strategic focus for recruitment and retention, succession planning, affirmative employment and reasonable accommodations.
Agency Created Central Fund
"Through these efforts, the Agency has created a centralized fund to provide reasonable accommodations," said Gilbert Camacho, Director, Office of Dispute Resolution and Equal Employment Opportunity. "This fund has paid for such things as motorized scooters for employees with mobility impairments to move around, purchased Evacuation Chairs to ensure that we are able to safely move our employees during potential workplace threats, and provide ergonomically safe equipment to address carpal tunnel syndrome, spinal and back conditions."
CDC's Office of Dispute Resolution and Equal Employment Opportunity and the Management Information Systems Office also began to roll-out the "Automated Tracking System (ATS)." This system will provide the Agency with the ability to electronically process, evaluate and take final action on request for reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
"These efforts are indicative of the Agency's commitment to becoming an 'Employer of Choice,'" said Camacho. "Although we face challenges, I am delighted that we are taking positive steps in the right direction."
Camacho said he will be working with Agency leadership at levels to take Gerberding's charge to lead the federal government in the employment, retention and promotion of persons with disabilities and make it a reality.
"We have already been directed by the Chief Operating Officer to review and report to the Management Council on the Agency's performance in this area, develop recommendations and solutions to hold ourselves and managers at all levels accountable for achieving this goal," he said.
"As an Agency whose primary mission is that of public health, especially health disparities, we must be the leader within the federal government in hiring, retaining and promoting persons with disabilities," said CDC's Chief Operating Officer William Gimson. "We are serious about this, we will be the leaders in this area, and we will hold ourselves accountable."