Meeting of the Federal Exchange on Employment & Disability (FEED)
July 26, 2018
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Dexter Brooks, Director, Federal Sector Programs, Office of Federal Operations, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Thank you for joining us today. Happy ADA Day! Today is the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA)! The ADA is a baby compared to our Rehab Act, and that birthday is coming up in September as well.
So, this is our quarterly FEED meeting. Are there any new members to FEED? Thank you and welcome! The FEED group is something that was started by a three agency partnership, the Department of Labor, OPM and EEOC, several years ago because of the work we were doing under the Executive Order related to federal hiring of people with disabilities. We thought it was better to pool our resources and talent to try to find ways to get more and better information to our community.
And through that effort, one of the leaders in our community for many years, and he’s a quiet leader, has been Akinyemi Banjo from DOL’s ODEP (Office of Disability Employment Policy). His passion, and it’s a passion he’s shared with me often over the last decade, is how do we create a community of practice for federal employment of people with disabilities? Previously, he headed the Federal Disability Workforce Consortium (FDWC), and there were online groups as well. Akinyemi has always wanted to have a way to share information and leverage best practices around federal disability employment.
We have had great support through EARN, which is the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion, as a partner. All of us come together to try to create forums for folks in this community to share information, to learn and to really become a community. At some point we would like to see these meetings no longer hosted by EEOC, ODEP or OPM–we would like to see them driven by you, the folks in this community, because it is very strong. So, we’ve also had great support from ODEP, and I also want to introduce Michael Murray from ODEP.
We lost two key members of our community recently, Dinah Cohen and Stephen King. We want to say a few quick words about them both. I will say a few things about Stephen. Stephen started as an HR practitioner. He worked at Commerce, and was Disability Program Manager at the Census Bureau. My first interaction with him was when Stephen was creating a Disability Program Manager course at EEOC. One of the things we learned over the years doing training courses, providing this kind of training, is that when we work in a policy area, we are in the lab, so to speak. So, we’re not out there in the field, on the front lines like you guys are, so we need that type of interaction. So, we brought Stephen in on a detail and he helped us craft that Disability Program Manager course and that was my first intersection with him.
He came over here and he worked with Jo Linda Johnson and they created a course that really propelled us into the disability arena. Stephen and I became friends at that point and we talked, we mentored each other. When he left Commerce, he took a job with DoD, a whole different word because Census and DoD are opposites–social services versus military–but he was very adaptable. And he became the second director of DoD’s CAP (Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program). The other person we want to recognize today is Dinah Cohen, who was actually the very first director of DoD’s CAP program.
So, several years ago, we had a lot of disability inclusion and reasonable accommodation issues with the State Department. The agency has a workforce that works internationally, so they need to have worldwide availability and be able to be in different posts around the world. So, you can’t always control the environment, and accommodations can become very tricky. After EEOC working with the State Department for years, they decided they needed to set up a program to look at disability accommodations and created the first, to our knowledge anyway, Disability Program Manager type position at the SES level. It was a big deal, and Stephen became the first person to hold that position. Stephen passed away early in the spring and there was a memorial ceremony a few months ago, but we wanted to take a moment to recognize his contributions to this community and thank him.
Now, Michael will say some words about Dinah.
Michael Murray, Director, Employer Policy Team, ODEP, U.S. Department of Labor: I am going to have to do a little bit of reading. It’s hard, because most of the time I go off‑the‑cuff, but I can’t do it on this one. So, on March 23, 2018, Dinah Cohen passed away. She was a tireless advocate for families and spent her career trying to ensure people with disabilities were fully included in the workplace. Dinah spent the last three years of her life working with us at EARN as a trainer and educator and spreading love and joy and energy all the time. I got to spend some time with her on a bunch of training trips.
One of them that I’ll never forget is when we were in Texas and I was driving the rental car and Dinah was sitting next to me and was supposed to be helping with the directions. We started chatting and we were going back and forth, and we got so lost–we had no idea where we were going! Dinah was terrible with directions, but it was wonderful. It was amazing because Dinah was a wonderful storyteller. I loved hearing her tell stories about what it was like growing up as a daughter of Holocaust survivors. I loved hearing stories about her work in the private sector doing training and education, and really that technical assistance became the foundation for a lot of what we see in Section 503 today, so that impact was long lasting.
But her stories weren’t only entertaining, although they were incredibly entertaining, they were also instructive. Probably all of us who have been around for a little while got mentored by Dinah at some point or another. Some of her most instructive stories, at least for me, were about her times leading CAP. And CAP is now the largest centralized accommodation program that provides assistive technology access to DoD and federal employees with disabilities all around the world.
That is a huge deal and we know it’s a successful practice, but when Dinah first took over this idea and started moving towards it, it was pretty new. If Dinah had failed and it had not been successful, I think it would have had a huge negative impact on the concept of centralized accommodation funding. We hear it all the time, “They tried it in the Federal Government and it was terrible” and “You know, it wasn’t successful and federal employees, they can’t do it” and all this sort of stuff. And it would have been detrimental [had it failed], but because of her energy, because of her enthusiasm, it was a huge success. Under her 23 year tenure at CAP, 128,000 accommodations were provided. Now CAP is nearing 200,000 accommodations and on top of that, a ton of private sector companies have now adopted this best practice and have their own centralized accommodation funds.
I think when we think about Dinah and want to honor her memory, it’s about focusing on the fact that we’re all a part of something bigger than ourselves. By realizing the incredible ripple effect our work has on those around us, we honor her. You know, whenever I talked to Dinah, and although she was doing something huge and important–in the middle of the daily grind when you’re dealing with bureaucracy and internal politics, it’s easy to lose that bigger picture–but Dinah kept her eyes on the fact that it was bigger than herself. She had an opportunity to impact people around her. Each person who engaged with her, she was there, she was fully engaged with you, all of that energy was just there for you. And she did that with everybody. It had a huge and incredible ripple effect.
So the next time that you’re sitting there and you’re doing an accommodation and you’re doing the daily grind or writing that MD-715 report that you know we all love. Right? [Laughter] I see Dexter back there. It’s easy to get lost and say, “I’m doing my thing.” But we’ve got to stop that and break out of that and be like Dinah and realize the ripple effect that our work has on hundreds and thousands of people around us. Seize that at any time, as Dinah would do.
Dinah has passed the torch. We can honor her by mentoring others. We can honor Dinah Cohen by telling good stories. We can honor Dinah Cohen by being so warm and inviting that our presence in the room creates a more inclusive environment. And we can honor Dinah, finally, by recognizing the incredible ripple effect our work has on the disability community and the people around us. And in so doing so, you will join us in honoring the legacy and impact that Dinah had on our community and nation. So I think it may be appropriate for just a second to maybe have a little bit of a moment of silence and just think about how we can honor both Stephen and Dinah in our actions and work, and then we will move forward with our agenda. Thank you.
Dexter Brooks: Now we will move on to our agenda. Thank you, Michael, we really appreciate your words.
As we talk about the efforts of folks who are legends, it seems only right to introduce Natalie Veeney. She is with OPM, and has previously worked at USDA, and is one of the key members of our interagency partnership. She’s going to give you information on Schedule A updates from OPM.
Natalie Veeney, Diversity Program Manager, Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion, U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM): Good morning. I bring you greetings from OPM. Thank you to our panelists for coming today. I just want to talk briefly, since we need to catch up on our time and make sure we stay with the agenda, about Schedule A. I tried my best to come with balloons on this celebration of the anniversary of the ADA, and I was going to present to you guys a new tool on Schedule A for the workforce, and it’s coming, but not today. Just so I make sure you didn’t think I was lying, I brought a mockup [of the tool], so we are close. We are so, so close. You guys have been asking for quite some time for a little bit more clarification when it comes to Schedule A and implementing it within your agency. This is something you want, right? Many of you have been on different working groups to bring something together, you’ve presented things to OPM, and now we’re finally getting a chance to bring you something back, so it’s coming very soon.
But first, I want to say a couple of things about the tool–it’s not new information, that’s number one. This is not anything new, no new policy changes have occurred, all we’re doing is clarifying those things that you guys keep coming to OPM and asking about. Things like, “Why doesn’t this work this way?,” “How does this work?,” “What happens when you do this?” Also, “How does that preference relate to this?” That’s a question we always get. So, we are trying to clarify some of these things and answer some of those questions in what we’re calling “Myth Busters.” So, this is a myth and we give you the facts. Hopefully it will be a resource you can take to HR and spread among them.
We plan to disperse it from OPM via our HR community, but you guys will get it first. I’ll say it again–FEED members will get it when? First! Because you guys really are the impetus to push this through. So, we want to make sure you get it first. The Diversity and Inclusion Office will be pushing it out to the practitioners and sending it out to EEO. Hopefully, this will increase the use of Schedule A in the workplace and really help people know more about it, including the hiring managers.
In that vein, our policy shop actually reviewed our responses to make sure they are consistent with the policy and there was one point that they wanted me to bring up, so I’m going to share that with you today. And that is, Schedule A for us, we only talk about 5CFR 213.3102U – persons with disabilities. Schedule A actually starts with 5CFR 213.3102A that deals with hiring chaplains. We go all the way down to LL, which helps us hire readers, interpreters and personal assistant services. When you guys come to us and ask, “How do you do this?” and “How do you do that?” and “How does this work with this?,” understand that the policy is written for your agencies to have maximum flexibility.
So everything in there [the policy] starts with, “An agency may, could, might, etc.” and what do you guys want me to say? “You must. You shall. You have to.” Right? And so, we’re not going to [say that] because we want some give, meaning OPM is not going to do that, because everybody hires differently for different reasons.
So, I am challenging you to have an understanding of your agency’s Excepted Hiring Plan. With people with disabilities, it’s one section [of Schedule A]. If you as a practitioner have an understanding of your agency’s overall Excepted Hiring Plan, it is likely you will understand how it connects to veteran hiring and other Excepted Hiring and you can be more proactive with your HR department. You can say how prominently you want to highlight the “U” section. Things like, “This is how we increase hiring of people with disabilities” or “If we change our reasonable accommodation procedures to include personal assistant services, how are we going to better utilize the LL portion of Schedule A within our Excepted Service policy?”
All of that is to say these “Myth Busters” are here to help you and they’re coming, we’re still working on it. I would say give us no more than 30 days. Hopefully, within the next two weeks. We hope to have the Myth Busters ready when the meeting notes and transcript from this meeting come out, so we can include them in that email to FEED members. But if not, they will be forthcoming. At the same time, this is a portion of a much larger conversation around Excepted Service. So we can’t give you any “musts,” your agency doesn’t “have to,” but we can better inform you on how to make the best use of the policy that we have.
With that I get the pleasure of introducing another superstar. Are you guys ready? Coming to the stage, live for those in the room, is Ms. Anupa Iyer. I’m going to start by saying Anupa is awesome. She works at the EEOC as a policy advisor in the Office of Federal Operations. We all know and love her. She does a million things well, and I’m happy to call her a friend and colleague, but today she’s going to moderate our panel.
So, now I’m going to introduce our panel really quickly and I apologize if I mess up someone’s name. To my immediate left, which would be in front of you, we have Alexander Jacobs. Alexander is a Presidential Management Fellow in OPM’s Diversity and Inclusion Office, my office. He’s on detail from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Let’s welcome Alex. [Clapping]
Next we have Tiara Ballard. She is an EEO/Diversity Consultant for the Diversity Management Division of the Equal Opportunity and Diversity Office at the Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Department of Defense. Let’s give her a hand. [Clapping] For the record, that’s where I started my federal career. Next, we have Dia Gonsalves.
Martha Hennen, Management and Program Analyst, Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: Dia is actually ill today. My name is Martha Hennen and I work in the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Natalie Veeney: Let’s give it up for Martha! Thank you. Last, surely not least, we have Paul Plasencia. He’s the Director of the Diversity and Inclusion Branch, as well as a Veterans Employment Program Manager, for the U.S. Department of Labor. Good morning and thank you.
Anupa Iyer, Policy Advisor, Office of Federal Operations, EEOC: Thank you everyone for joining us here today. As we reflect on the ADA’s 28th anniversary, we have to think about the fact that what we were looking at initially was all about bringing people with disabilities into the workforce, getting jobs, recruitment, etc. Now, with the Rehab Act, which has been around since 1973, and the ADA, we’ve made progress in terms of the number of people with disabilities who have gone to college, who have gotten higher education degrees, who want to work, who can work, who have the skills and abilities to really be in what we call “Mission Critical” occupations at our agencies.
So, we have this huge population of talent and the question is, why is that talent, as we’ve found in OFO, why are people, especially people with significant disabilities, hired and employed two grades below their peers without disabilities? So, during today’s discussion, as we’re talking about the utilization of various Excepted Service hiring authorities, or as we call it in the Section 501 regulation, “hiring authorities that take disability into account,” we ask you to look at strategies to not just bring people on board, but also to identify opportunities for their advancement. I think it’s the B2 or B3 table [in MD-715] that has the “Mission Critical” occupations. So, to really look at those occupations and figure out how can you bring more people with disabilities into those positions. And even if you don’t have positions open right now, what are ways that you can build that pipeline and keep that channel going? So that when you have openings, there you go, you’ve got like five great candidates who are ready to come to work. So with that, I am going to start with Martha. Martha, if you would like to give an introduction about the work you’ve been doing at SEC, that would be fantastic.
Martha Hennen: Sure. So thank you, Anupa. Very happy to be here and I look forward to answering some of your questions a little bit later. I work in the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity at SEC. What we have done to support our Equal Employment Opportunity Program is develop a strong partnership across our Commission with our partners in the Office of Human Resources and the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion to support different populations of employees, including persons with disabilities. We partner and meet quite frequently in order to help prepare the MD-715.
Several years ago, we initiated a study looking at the opportunities of persons with targeted disabilities as part of our Barrier Analysis Program. I co-lead with my wonderful colleague, Alice Rodriguez, the Barrier Analysis Program for the SEC. As a result of some of the efforts between the Barrier Analysis Program and the implementation of the 501 regulation changes, we’ve done a number of things to consolidate a lot of different efforts that were already going on in the Commission to support persons with disabilities.
Culminating in a lot of information in part J of our FY2017 [MD-715] report, and very importantly, is a recruitment strategy that specifically speaks to the hiring of persons with disabilities. It’s a recruitment strategy and plan that covers 2018 and 2019. We have hosted some networking events where we invite hiring managers from across the Commission and persons with disabilities who may be interested in employment with the SEC to attend a session at our headquarters office. We gather information and develop a contact list of those people and use that as part of our outreach for hiring for specific vacancies through the Schedule A, Part U hiring authority. We do a number of things like that as part of our outreach. Also, our Special Employment Programs Manager in the Office of Human Resources holds quite a number of outreach events focused on different populations, like veterans with disabilities, and other populations of persons with disabilities, as well as other types of recruiting and outreach.
In addition, every year for about four years now we’ve done a resurvey of our population in order to help identify amongst our employee base if there are persons who have had a change in their demographic information, including their disability status. Last year as part of our implementation of the 501 regulation, we specifically pointed out the change to the SF-256, the self‑identification of disability standard form, and provided information and linkage to the information on file for each person. We invited them to use our Employee Express program to update their information. Last year, our resurvey led to 78 persons making a change in some way or another to their disability information.
We’re actively involved in that resurvey effort right now, and I got an update this morning saying this month, we launched it on July 18th and it closes on August 19th, our resurvey effort has already led to 185 people making a change in one way or another to their demographic information. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to self‑identify as having a disability, they might be making some other kind of change, but having 185 go into the system and make a change feels very successful to us.
Anupa Iyer: How many folks here are also looking at doing a resurvey campaign this year? And I hope there are folks online who are thinking about that as well. I think that during our question and answer session we can definitely ask about some strategies that you guys used to do this.
Martha Hennen: The SEC has a high proportion of attorney roles, and most of them, the largest proportion of them, are hired through Schedule A, Part C. One of the things that we’ve noticed is that we do have a small number of attorneys who were hired under Schedule A, Part C who have transitioned to the Competitive Service from the Excepted Service and are coded with that transition in their Legal Authority Code related to Schedule A, Part U. So, consider looking at your agency’s information about folks hired under the other authorities for Excepted Service, because there may be employees who transitioned into the Competitive Service using the Schedule A, Part U authority.
Anupa Iyer: Now, Tiara from DIA, I know you guys are in the process of creating your own Excepted Service hiring program for people with disabilities. Would you like to share some of the work that you’re doing with that?
Tiara Ballard, EEO/Diversity Consultant, Diversity Management Division, Equal Opportunity and Diversity Office, Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Department of Defense: Sure. Good morning and thank you. So the Defense Intelligence Agency, we’re a Title X agency, so we don’t necessarily fall under the same rules as Title V, somewhat. However, since the final ruling for the Rehab Act came out last year, I drafted a policy that included verbiage similar to Schedule A, in addition to also including verbiage that provided special hiring flexibility for veterans as well. Since that time, we’ve been working with our HR office to essentially put that into policy. We do under Title X have the direct hiring authority, however we don’t presently have anything in writing to codify how we can use that toward individuals with disabilities and veterans. So, that is where we are right now in terms of having that come to fruition.
Some of the other things that we do right now in terms of our hiring and recruitment are that we have the Wounded Warrior Program and we also utilize the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP). So, those are the two main programs that our agency presently has right now in place.
In terms of our disability numbers, however, we’re actually doing pretty good overall. We’re at about 11.98 percent overall. We do need to do some more work in terms of the entry level grades, and we are working with our office of HR to figure out other avenues to get more individuals at grade levels 10 and below, in terms of meeting the 12 percent and 2 percent hiring goals. Coupled with that, we are getting HR to realize if we put these policies in place and let the workforce know that the DIA has the hiring flexibility, it could work to our advantage for passive recruiting. People would also come to us as well. So, that’s where we are presently.
Anupa Iyer: Thank you. And now Paul, I think it would be great if you could go next. When we think about Schedule A, we really think about Schedule A for persons with disabilities that does not include the veteran population. However, in terms of looking at the data for the MD-715 and really coming up with your agency affirmative action plan, the EEOC gave that broad language of hiring authorities that take disability into account, which includes veterans who are hired under a disability hiring authority, as well as disabled veterans. And I think a lot of times there’s a larger population of veterans who don’t meet the standards in terms of being a disabled veteran, but are already hired under Schedule A. Our folks would love to hear some of the work that you’ve been doing in terms of increasing the number of veterans on board.
Paul Plasencia, Director, Diversity and Inclusion Branch/Veterans Employment Program Manager, U.S. Department of Labor: Absolutely. I serve as the Veterans Employment Program Manager [at DOL], so I do outreach to veteran organizations. We try to talk to them [service members] prior to them leaving service, so while they’re still in the military, but as they’re starting to get out. We want to catch them early. A lot of this is outreach, teaching, instructing, etc. One of the biggest issues is that the federal hiring process is one of the most confusing things for people with disabilities and veterans alike. So, we we’ve taken steps to make sure they know up front what it is they are required to do. We can hire through the Excepted Service, but we want to make sure their resumes are qualifying based on OPM basic standards. A lot of the ones that we receive sometimes are not, they don’t meet minimum qualifications sometimes, but they have the qualifications, so we have to take the time to show them how to bring their skills to light.
So, one of the things that we’re actually working on now is revamping our entire career site on DOL.gov. We’re actually putting step by step processes in there for them, such as interviewing tips and links to relevant sites such as OPM, Vets.gov, etc. Another thing we’re trying to do is build that pipeline as well, so we’re actually building it through our website. We’ve created a repository for Schedule A, so we can take these resumes and they will come to us through a survey tool that we’ve built. So, Schedule A applicants and veterans alike will be able to upload their resumes for consideration. We’re really proud and excited about getting ready for this tool to upload.
One of the things that DOL developed several years ago is an internal policy called “advanced consideration.” This was basically given out to all of the Department’s HR folks and the hiring managers. The goal of advanced consideration is that before you post a job announcement, [you should] contact the Department’s Veterans Employment Program Manager and consider filling your position non-competitively first. If that fails, post a DEU. Natalie said, “We don’t say, ‘you shall, you will.’ We say, ‘you can, you may’.” So, this is an option your agency may want to consider.
The other thing I want to talk about is, like Anupa said, make sure you’re counting your disabled veterans in your disability numbers. Some of you don’t know that one of the challenges that we all have is self‑disclosing disability. Some people don’t because of fear of discrimination or other reasons. We know that folks as we age, we’re all going to have some type of disability in the future. That’s why the census was brought up, because it’s important you do one. We like to do one every three years. We’re currently in the middle of one, but we are trying to kill three birds with one stone this time.
We’re actually doing a demographic census because we’re finding out our numbers are pretty low, and I think it’s because we haven’t done a demographic census in a long time. We’re asking folks to update their education because we know people go back to school, and we’re asking people to check their disability status specifically, since the codes were changed, and uploaded that information into our system. We want to make sure we have the accurate numbers. When it comes to disabled veterans, look for the ones on the SF-256 or look into your systems, look for veterans 30 percent or more disabled that checked off blocks 1 and 5 [on the SF-256] because you need to add that number to your disability numbers, because they count as onboard representation.
Anupa Iyer: Thank you. Just reflecting on what you had to say, I think it’s amazing that small changes can make such a difference. I think that’s something that even in our MD-715 instructions we were noting. Just updating your website to say, “We want you here, and here are tips for you,” can make a huge difference, not just for veteran hiring but also for hiring people with disabilities. I remember part of my passion on this in terms of the federal sector was I was trying to get a job through Schedule A and I had no idea how to make that happen.
I think I’m going to now turn this over to Alexander because I think he has a lot to share about that as well, about the process and the experience that you go through in terms of getting connected to an agency and getting accepted for an opportunity.
Alexander Jacobs, Presidential Management Council Fellow, Special Assistant, Diversity and Inclusion, OPM, on detail from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Good morning, everyone. My name is Alexander Jacobs. I’m currently on detail to OPM’s Center of Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion as part of the Presidential Management Council program. I’ve been a Department of Homeland Security employee since 2007.
I was born profoundly deaf in America and grew up in England, with my mum who is English. I went to speech therapy starting at four years old and kept going once a week until I was 11 or 12. Mum tells me that I also went to sign language classes, but once I started talking, I never stopped talking! So, I never learned sign language.
As soon as I graduated from high school in England, I moved back to Florida because I preferred beach weather over English weather! When I graduated from college in Florida, I moved to Washington, DC because I wanted to pursue my interests in public service. I went to George Washington University for my first Masters. During my studies at GW, I was an intern at the National Defense University and then at a private think tank called Terrorism Research Center. When I graduated from GW in May 2007, I had applied to every job possibly related to national security and intelligence.
After a few months of receiving no responses, I reached out to Vocational Rehabilitation in Virginia. I met a wonderful person with a great sense of humor who discussed career opportunities with me. At this time, I didn’t know anything about Schedule A. She told me about it and wrote up a letter of certification. With this letter, she forwarded it to Selective Placement coordinators that she knew. Within a few weeks, I received an email from a coordinator at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and she helped to set up an interview. It was a panel of five people from their Fraud Detection and National Security branch. The interview went well and then they offered me a job with their intelligence branch, starting at GS-9 with a career ladder to GS-14.
And that’s how I started my federal career on September 17, 2007. I appreciate the value of the Schedule A program. Without it, I would not have gotten my start. It presents enormous value to the deaf and hard of hearing. According to a nonprofit organization named Communication Service for the Deaf, the unemployment and underemployment rate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing is 70 percent. I believe I can say this on behalf of the deaf and hard of hearing, to those that work as Selective Placement coordinators, thank you for helping us to take advantage of those openings!
With that said, I want to relay what my career has been like since I started. It has always been a dream of mine to be a leader and to be the “go-to” person on subjects close to my heart – in this case, national security. I worked as an Intelligence Research Specialist and then in 2011, I joined a different part of USCIS as an Immigration Officer working in national security and fraud detection. I was a part of two immigration officers’ team at headquarters, with three people stationed overseas working with us on those issues. I cannot tell you how much I truly enjoyed the work. I helped others and for the first time in my career, I was trusted to provide training to new employees going overseas on national security and fraud detection issues. I think about it all the time, not to go off topic, but for the first time in my career, I was talking to people who were going overseas. As a deaf person, I was nervous about talking in front of people, in front of a class. This meant a great deal to me and I overcame my fears of public speaking. I became comfortable and found joy in connecting with my students in class. It helped to facilitate a productive working relationship when they went overseas and needed input on policies or cases relating to my area of expertise.
In 2015, I learned my supervisor withheld training feedback from me. It came out that the feedback was students had difficulty understanding me. When I learned about that, I immediately set about addressing this issue. I tried to think about what I could do. The first big step was speech therapy. I asked for speech therapy and we began to explore the possibility of CART transcribing what I said for the class to make it easier to for everyone to understand me. It took about a year for that change to CART to take effect and we tried it out for the first time in early 2016. We made some progress and I had the opportunity to work with it, to become a leader. It was a success but still mixed, because it was a lot for the students to look at the PowerPoint, at the captioned screen and at me at the same time, but it was still an improvement.
Three opportunities opened up for me to develop my career further. My immigration partner retired and management made the decision to convert her position to management, making it a GS-14 supervisory position. I applied for that position and included my Schedule A letter. I was referred as best qualified and was interviewed. In early 2016, I was not selected because I didn’t have supervisory experience. I trained that person to do the job when that person came on board in mid-2016.
The next opportunity was an international job at a GS-13 level. Again, I applied with Schedule A. I was not selected and was not provided the reason for it. I trained the person who got that job. After that, my supervisor decided to leave after 10 months. I got the opportunity as a supervisory GS-14 for two months, which was extended for a total of four months. I won two peer nominated awards. Then they posted the supervisory opening in December and I applied for it. Again, I included my Schedule A letter. I was referred as best qualified and interviewed. I was not selected and was not provided the reason. I helped to train the selected person for that position. At no point did the selecting officials discuss my Schedule A letter or the opportunity for that promotion or international opening through Schedule A.
Truthfully speaking, it has been hard but I’m still going. I could not keep going without my wife, my mother and my two wonderful children. Because of their support, my dream of being a leader has not gone away. I continue to aspire to be a leader. That’s why I’m at OPM as part of a leadership program. With OPM’s support, I am going to speech therapy every Friday to work on my speaking skills. I’m also reaching out to as many Selective Placement Coordinators as I can to find to look for new opportunities. With OPM’s help, I’ve looked into mentorship and coaching programs. I’m conducting informational interviews at DHS, DoD and OPM to broaden my horizons and knowledge. I’m a lead on a critical project for OPM. In my personal time, I’ve reached out to a life coach to help develop my skills and I’m helping a nonprofit organization to reach out to others that work with deaf and hard of hearing people.
As a result of the non-selection experience and that folks seem to have difficulty understanding me, I am now pursuing cochlear implant surgery. My hope is that this will help me communicate more effectively and that someday, I’ll get that leadership opportunity. After I met with the surgeon, his office reached out to me and set the date for my surgery. It was the earliest opening they had, September 17, 2018. That day will be the 11th anniversary of the day I started working for the Federal Government. I look forward to talking with all of you about Schedule A and my experience with it today. Thank you for having me here today [Clapping].
Anupa Iyer: Thank you. That was incredibly powerful. And I think it also shows that there are a lot of people with significant disabilities who can move up, who can be in leadership positions. If we in our work challenge ourselves to make it happen, we can make progress. And what I’m seeing and hearing from all of our speakers is that it’s not just the individual Disability Program Managers, RA Coordinators or HR Special Placement Program Coordinators, whatever it is at your agency, because one person is not going to make that much of a difference. Yes, we need advocates in the agency, but it takes a collaborative effort.
I wanted to turn this over to Martha now. I’m pulling from a bunch of questions that we got from folks through the SurveyMonkey link we sent out prior to the meeting, and I wanted to hear about the collaboration at the SEC because that seems like that’s something important, there’s a buy-in that needs to happen. So, could you share some of that experience?
Martha Hennen: So, like I mentioned in my opening, we have created a strong partnership across the Office of Human Resources, my office–the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity–and the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. That has led to sharing information specifically about data, and trying to determine how we can use this information to help hiring managers understand their flexibility and when they can use different hiring authorities, including Schedule A, Part U.
We also have a very strong employee affinity group program and one of the strongest groups is the Diversity Interest Advisory Council Committee (DIAC). DIAC has a very strong presence in the agency and they meet quite regularly, at least quarterly, and what we have done with DIAC, as well as our other employee affinity groups, is we share internal vacancy announcements through email distribution lists from the leadership of the Employee Affinity Group (EAG). We share information about opportunities that are available that are sponsored by EAG, but also from other groups within the agency, so there’s a wider communication network and resource amongst membership of the DIAC.
In the past and last year, we held a diversity showcase and that was a partnership between the Office of Information Technology and the Office of Human Resources to talk about what are the resources that are available to help persons with disabilities and others who may need technological assistance tools or HR resources. We had somebody come in from the Library of Congress who had information about books on tape. They were not necessarily specific to a particular occupation, but it was about helping people gain additional knowledge by getting access to resources in the agency as well as outside of the agency. Does that answer your question, Anupa?
Anupa Iyer: Does anyone else want to jump in about ways they have collaborated in their agency? I think employee resource groups are something a lot of agencies may have, but perhaps we aren’t utilizing them as well as we could. So, I think that’s a great take away. Do other folks want to jump in in terms of how you have made collaboration happen?
Paul Plasencia: So, I’m going to agree with the affinity groups. We have 14 groups within the Department of Labor, one of them being the Disability Action Group. The group presidents all meet together, and this falls under my office for oversight. They are involved in everything, and we share job announcements with them, they put on training for the department, etc., so they are a vital part of what we do.
Tiara Ballard: At DIA, we’re actually looking at taking an initiative from the FBI where they train everybody to be a recruiter. We call ours NFE, Non-Federal Entities, and we’re working with each NFE to give them the training and skills required to actually go out with our recruitment team and/or on their own and do recruitment.
Anupa Iyer: Natalie and I also want to say for folks online we are going to be opening this up to questions, so if you have questions for our panelists, or if you have something that you’d like to share, please message that to us and we will be asking our panelists these questions in about five more minutes.
Natalie Veeney: I’m always doing a shameless plug for our office, the Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion Center at OPM. We have what we call the ERGCOP, Employee Resource Group Community of Practice. We encourage everyone to participate. We’re planning to meet quarterly. We had our second meeting last week. And so if you want more information about that, just email diversityandinclusion@OPM.gov. We are hoping the members of ERGCOP will ask for things–if they need training or recruitment or best practices, they can bring that to the group and that information can be shared with everyone. So, we really encourage you to take that back to your agencies and come join us.
Anupa Iyer: Let me ask a question on that. Is it for any agency? Can their ERG folks sign up?
Natalie Veeney: Right now I think the bulk are ERG presidents or groups. It’s not limited to the presidents, but I think that’s who sends representatives at this time. We want everyone possible to be in the room to get the dialogue flowing. We’re trying out the webinar features now. Everyone knows how it is hard with the technological issues, but we would like to move towards this goal to increase that presence, so we have people in the DC area in the room and our remote participants like field personnel. So, anyone can join at this time. It’s new, we’re trying to feel it out, we have an online presence on OPM’s MAX.gov. It mirrors what we do here, but hopeful we can connect our ERGs with groups like FEED, so basically solidify that collaboration that must happen internally with the agencies.
Anupa Iyer: Those are all fantastic points about utilizing the ERGs. One of the questions that we were asked multiple times was about training. What training is available for hiring managers about these various Excepted Service hiring authorities for people with disabilities? And also, what types of trainings are available to HR and EEO practitioners? So, I guess I may turn it over to Natalie to talk about this, but then I think if you could also talk Tiara, Paul and Martha about if you have developed your own trainings at your agencies, and what that might include.
Natalie Veeney: Many of you may be familiar with the “Roadmap to Success” that was put on HRU.gov by OPM many years ago, along with the Selective Placement Coordinators training. Those both are being moved from HRU.gov and we’re trying to figure out the best platform to put them on so the federal community can still access them, It looks like they will be on OPM’s MAX.gov. We haven’t made that transition yet, but that’s the likely transition that will be made with those trainings.
One of the other questions we received was around online training specific to Schedule A, and also special hiring authorities for veterans. Now that we have the Outreach, Diversity and Inclusion Center within Employee Services at OPM, that is something I am going to take back to partner within our other center to see if we can put out some technical assistance. The office I work in is not a policy shop, so we don’t establish the policy or write it, but we can put it out there for you guys in a way that is hopefully something that you can use, maybe as a PowerPoint presentation or a train the trainer type of thing. We don’t have that available yet, though.
I saw the questions that we received and said, “Hey, that could be a FY19 project for OPM,” meaning our office specifically. We could put together something specific around Schedule A and veterans and the special hiring authorities and how they work together so you guys can access this and put it in your own framework for hiring managers. That’s something that I think could be easily done and hopefully will be coming in the future.
Anupa Iyer: So, all of your comments and questions do matter because that’s the whole point of this group. The other question is, are there agencies who actually do have training in place and if so, could they share that with OPM as sort of a framework?
Natalie Veeney: Yes, we do encourage everyone to upload their trainings to the MAX.gov website. If the trainings are not specifically from OPM, we will review them before they are posted. But you as a federal agency representative can go in and share your training with others included in the collaboration areas, and we’ve broken those out. If you want to put something up around disability, you can put it in the FEED Community of Practice (CoP). We have an LGBTQ CoP as well, and other groups within your agency who have those trainings can put those up and see other people’s trainings, too. We want this to be a community of practice online where we learn from one another. We can put out the policy and we will post that as well, but for the trainings that you guys come up with, all we do is share them. So, this is the best way to share this information. We ask you share your trainings on the FEED CoP on MAX.gov, or you can email diversityandinclusion@OPM.gov and we can send you the link to the FEED CoP (https://bit.ly/2OkIxjf) to put them up. Everyone who has a .gov address can utilize MAX.gov, so that way you can share what you do for training.
Paul Plasencia: So, we do disability etiquette and Schedule A training quarterly in‑house because there really isn’t anything out there. A lot time ago, OPM used to have videos on their YouTube channel, but those don’t seem to be there anymore. So, we’ve basically been doing it internally. I’m happy to report that, because we told EEOC in our MD-715 that we were going to make Schedule A training mandatory for all of our HR professionals and hiring managers.
With that said, we recently launched a leadership course at Labor, which is every manager and HR person has to get some CEU or credits per year on different courses. We’re going to include Schedule A as a mandatory part of the curriculum for every year of that. That’s one thing we’re implementing.
Let me throw in a plug for veterans training as well. OPM’s veteran services, which is under the Disability Office, recently released a brand new development of veterans employment training, which by the way of Executive Order is mandatory for all hiring managers and HR professionals. It used to be two separate courses, one for the HR folks and one for managers, and now they have combined the two. It’s on HR University (HRU.gov) and if you get with the HRU manager at OPM they can help you get a downloadable version and include it in your agency’s learning management system, and that way you can track metrics.
Anupa Iyer: All of this information that folks are sharing will be included when we send out our notes from this meeting, so any emails or links that are available will be shared.
Martha Hennen: At the SEC, we have incorporated Schedule A and other hiring authorities information into our first level supervisor and mandatory leadership training called HR Management Fundamentals. And regularly our Special Employment Program Managers and Dia Gonsalves, who couldn’t be here today, and her team, in concert with representative leadership from our affinity group DIAC, meet and talk to the hiring managers or the managers who are participating in that training course. So, that’s basically how we share information.
Tiara Ballard: This is Tiara from DIA. The program that I mentioned where we are training all NFE members is still new, it’s in its developmental stages. So, in terms of having a codified training, I can’t necessarily articulate that to you, but I do know it covers our hiring authorities and ability to hire. Our reasonable accommodations team goes out frequently to provide training to the workforce, whether it be an NFE specific workshop they are having that day or ad hoc requested training.
Anupa Iyer: I want to see if there are any questions in the room or thoughts that folks would like to share with our panelists. So this question was from folks online, when you’re talking to hiring managers, how do you convince them to hire using Schedule A when what you hear back is, “Well, we want folks to compete because we want to hire the best.” Who wants to jump on that one?
Paul Plasencia: First of all, you can’t make a determination just because they are applying non-competitively. They can apply online and if they have identified as a Schedule A applicant, that hiring manager could use Schedule A and hire that individual. So, they can go through the rating and ranking process your agency does, and if they are one of the best qualified, you can hire them under the Schedule A hiring authority through that process.
Another thing I tell hiring managers is we have competing hiring authorities, we have to increase our veteran numbers and people with disability numbers. The first thing I tell folks is, “Look at your demographics.” Numbers tell the story. Look at your diversity. Where is the gap? That should help guide your decision on how you target or do your outreach.
The second option I always say is that if you want to hire a veteran or a disabled veteran, because they count under both, the main thing is, like my Disability Program Managers here, you’ve got top leadership support. We are advocates. The fact that we have ODEP within our agency is a big help, but we are advocates for people with disabilities. And what we do really well is, you have to have a SPPC that’s willing to get in that hiring manager’s space and say, “I have an applicant for you that would be a great fit for this job you’re looking to fill” and just bug them, stay on top of them. We’ve done that a lot. Our Disability Program Manager is here, and last year through his efforts, we had 12 disability Schedule A hires just through referrals.
The other piece is sometimes it’s helpful to encourage hiring managers to think about the efficiency that might be gained through using alternative hiring authorities. I don’t know about you, but when I’ve dealt with hiring managers, not only do they say, “We want the best,” they also say, “We want them right now.” So, the right now can be a selling point for alternative hiring.
Anupa Iyer: I’m just going to jump in and I hope Alexander will as well, because to me it also seems like a perception issue that there is still the stigma that a Schedule A person with disabilities, they are not going to be that good. And to me, it’s also that I see it as an attitudinal shift we need to keep working on. Alexander, do you have any thoughts?
Alexander Jacobs: Yes. In my experience, the biggest issue is the reasonable accommodation issue. How can we assure them that accommodations will be easy for everybody? We can assume the hiring managers are concerned about this and want to know. You have to educate them on the reasonable accommodation process as well. It is the elephant in the room, so to speak.
Anupa Iyer: And I am overseeing all of the reasonable accommodation procedure reviews and I can say when you have really strong, easy to understand procedures, it doesn’t just help you, it helps employees understand what their obligations are, and also hiring managers. So, if folks here have not submitted your RA procedures yet, please do. The email address is RAprocedures@EEOC.gov. If you have questions about improving your program, please send me an email and I would be happy to discuss it with you. One question that I want to ask is for Natalie. I think another issue in terms of Schedule A is, do you actually have to announce the job or, if you know there’s a vacancy, can you utilize Schedule A?
Natalie Veeney: The answer is absolutely yes. So, even after a position has been posted, you can still use Schedule A. I think that’s a hiring practice that people want to stick strongly with, but you can use Schedule A after it’s [the position] been closed, unless someone has been offered the position, meaning an individual has an offer letter from your agency. But prior to that, a person can still be selected non-competitively. Is that the question?
Anupa Iyer: So, for clarification, the question was, “Does the agency have to announce the position in order to use Schedule A?”
Natalie Veeney: The answer to that is no, you do not have to announce the position via USAJobs or the normal way that you do–some agencies don’t use USAJobs. Non-competitive means if a hiring manager knows about a position or a position that’s about to become available and they see the Schedule A eligible applicant from their Selected Placement Coordinator or a list, they do not have to post it. We still have the OPM shared list available, so you can get people from that list as well. We know agencies create their own repositories and have lists for themselves, too.
Anupa Iyer: Like WRP.
Natalie Veeney: In the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) database, not everyone is listed for Schedule A, but I would say 99 percent are, so it’s a good list. All of those people can be given to hiring managers to be reviewed for a position, interviewed and hired without any posting.
Anupa Iyer: From the mouth of OPM!
Natalie Veeney: Also, that question will be answered in the “Myth Busters.” And MAX.gov was created quite some time ago for federal agencies specifically. Everyone who is a user, in order to access and get a password and entry into MAX.gov, must have a .gov address. It’s a collaboration area. Different groups federal-wide that I belong to have pages on there. I think any agency can have their own page, any working group and we, meaning OPM Diversity and Inclusion, have one that has different sections. We have populated that over time and are still building onto it. We will send out that link for the FEED Community of Practice page because sometimes it can be hard to find the page, so we will send that out to everyone who has attended this meeting, and feel free to share that with others. Also, we’ll send the instructions on how to join.
Anupa Iyer: Are there other questions in the room?
Audience Member: So, my question is, is there anything similar to the non‑pay work program for veterans for Schedule A applicants so we can bring them in as volunteers? That’s how I got in. You get a monthly stipend, which was really nothing, so that’s not the reason for getting into the program. The reason for getting into the program is actually getting in front of hiring manager so you can show them your skills. In three months, I was hired from there. I’m starting to do that in the Department of Education, but it’s frustrating. I want to know, is there anything similar for the Schedule A applicants or applicants with disabilities so that we can bring them in as volunteers and they can show their skills and be directly hired after performing duties in front of the potential hiring managers?
Anupa Iyer: Thank you. I can repeat what Tony from the Department of Education, who serves as the VOP, Veteran Program Officer, and Special Placement Program Coordinator, just said. His question was, he came in through a non-paid work experience program for veterans and is now running that program at Department of Ed, and was wondering are there other programs that are similar, these non-paid work experience programs that can be used for individuals with disabilities through Schedule A?
Paul Plasencia: Well, I don’t know if this one applies, but there’s a private sector program called Project Search. We participated in that a couple of years ago, but these were high school kids that we brought on board. They are managed by somebody at the program, you know, and then we train them. They actually work in our DOL offices and when they are eligible to work, we are preparing them for their future. That’s the only one I can think of.
Michael Murray: This is Michael with ODEP. There is a little known exception to the rule that you’re only allowed to accept volunteer service in certain specific situations, like if they’re a student, other things, there are exceptions. What you may not know is, you’re allowed to accept volunteer service from anyone who has an Individualized Employment Plan under Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). VR is funded in every single state. They can utilize those funds to provide short-term, paid opportunities for people with disabilities and they are automatically Schedule A eligible if they are with Vocational Rehabilitation. You can take them in on that unpaid status, and then if they meet qualifications for a particular position and you have an open position, you can then hire them under Schedule A.
Now, I will say that in many cases, Schedule A gives you the flexibility to hire someone in a temporary position in lieu of a certification of job readiness, which would allow you to do the exact same thing and your agency could actually pay for it. I would say it probably doesn’t make sense to utilize that exception if you don’t necessarily have a job opening. But you can in some cases give someone an opportunity to engage that they wouldn’t otherwise have, such as the amazing AAPD interns, for example. We have an awesome AAPD intern. They are coming in through a college experience. If they have an Individualized Employment Plan, they can come in that other way as well.
Anupa Iyer: First of all, I came in to the EEOC as an intern, so this is something that is important to me. So, thank you for bringing that question up. Do we have a question online?
Audience Member: Are there internship programs specifically for veterans, including disabled veterans?
Anupa Iyer: I’m aware of a program, but not certain of the name. We have used it at another office I have worked with. I have worked with the EEOC to bring on veterans and they go through their counselor at the VA for job training, and they basically loan them out to us for up to six months, and they pay them minimum wage. I believe it’s for six months. It’s been good for us.
Audience Member: There’s one more program and that’s called Operation War Fighter. These are disabled veterans that have gotten hurt in combat. 90 percent of them will get discharged from the military. While they’re rehabilitating at a medical hospital, the agency can bring them in free of charge, there’s no cost to the agency because they are still being paid their salaries by the Department of Defense. Once DOD discharges them, they can be hired non-competitively under 30 percent or more disabled, if the agency has that vacancy open for them.
Anupa Iyer: One of our questions we’ve gotten a couple of times online, and I think folks in this room would be able to add to this one, is how can potential applicants learn about job openings before they go live so that the Schedule A hiring authority can be exercised? Are there any strategies that you use to get the word out about positions?
Audience Member: I’m Darrell Overbey. I work in the Office of Equal Opportunity at EEOC and my prior job was at the U.S. Forest Service. On their external web page, they have a field to fill out and if you’re interested in employment, you can click on it. Hiring managers are required to put an outreach notice in there 30 days prior to it being posted on USAJobs, so they can intake applicants and Schedule A letters. If that hiring manager or certain office says, “We’re just going to hire Schedule As this month,” they can go in there and have HR look at those resumes, because they are submitting manual resumes or answering a questionnaire and they can be hired that way.
So, I kept telling my daughter, “Go look.” She’s a Schedule A, she wears hearing aids, and I kept telling her, “You ought to apply.” She says, “Oh, no. I’ll never get it.” Well, finally she did [apply], but she didn’t get interviewed. This was for a very entry level GS-3, 4 or 5 HR assistant position. The funny thing is, she got a firm job offer today, but they didn’t interview her because they had that program. She was able to submit her resume with that Schedule A letter. So, they do that all the time and it also works for the veterans, too.
Those Excepted Service appointments work very well where you can apply this way. The same thing also applies for employees inside the organization. They can also sign up for those emails, so when a hiring manager announces something internally, the system can automatically email them just like USAJobs does when you have your criteria set. Schedule A employees looking at moving internally have an opportunity through that program before the vacancy is ever even announced.
Anupa Iyer: This is something I think the Forest Service created and I wonder, is that something that an agency can just do or do they need permission?
Natalie Veeney: So, I do think that we have posting requirements when it comes to vacancies, so I’m concerned about that example for a couple of reasons. But, they may have received an exception. My point is, I think if you are considering a repository or way of collecting information from candidates prior to posting, then I think OPM can give you the guidance on how to do that and the best way to do that if it’s allowed. I don’t have the specific citing in my mind. 302? 302 would have to apply, so I don’t know how that would work with this kind of situation.
Anupa Iyer: I think the key here, though, is that if you are thinking about creating a program or setting up a database, there are people at OPM who can work with you to help figure out if it fits in with the regs or not.
Natalie Veeney: I’ll follow‑up, and send a better answer to that question in our follow‑up to FEED members.
Paul Plasencia: Our advanced consideration policy addresses that specific thing if you’re going to collect that way. I’d be more than happy to share it with the group as well.
Natalie Veeney: That may be the rule, that may be why it works. So, that kind of intricacy, you would have to work not with Natalie on, Natalie doesn’t know that, but if you reach out to me, I can probably find the OPM contact that can help your agency do those things.
Anupa Iyer: Are there other questions? I think we can take maybe one more or else I’m going to pull one from the list here. Well, I think that this question about the database is actually something that does come up pretty often and databases can also lead to partnerships with other organizations, such as Voc Rehab, so what I’m wondering is, how can agencies utilize those partnerships with employment organizations?
Audience Member: We partner with DARS, they are our biggest partner. Our Solicitors Office, our legal team, has provided my office with a blanket MOU template so we are allowed to enter into partnerships, so we’re not having to go through the massive bureaucracy every time. A “What can you do for me?,” “What can I do for you?” type of thing. What we do for them is, we’ll go out and do mock interviews with the disability community and give them training on the federal hiring process. In return, they help us share our job announcements so we can help fill them. And they provide us with resumes all the time. If we’re looking to fill a position, our Disability Program Manager reaches out to them and they’ve already done interviews, so they know who will qualify for these positions. They are providing quality candidates that are going to qualify. We give those to the hiring managers and HR ranks and interviews them, and we make selections all the time just from those referrals.
Anupa Iyer: I would encourage this kind of partnership. We have a lot of good relationships with Maryland, DC and Virginia DORS, Department of Rehabilitation Services. I think they come to a lot of the things that we do in the DC area. But 70 percent of the workforce is not here, it’s in the other states, so I’m encouraging you guys to reach out to your regional and field locations to encourage them to have those local partnerships in those areas to expand your program outside of the DC region, because I think that’s where one of the larger disconnects is. Here, we do a good job of knowing people. I can give you that person’s name, but when you get out in Milwaukee, Idaho, Kansas, Texas, I think some of those relationships may be harder or not as well known. And I do think the opportunity for collaboration is there, it just needs someone to make the connection. So, I know you’re here based as a Disability Program Manager, but if you have someone out in the field doing it, help them connect with their local Vocational Rehab agency.
I think that was one of the things that we are considering for our next FEED meeting is to have some folks from some of these different national organizations present to our group and provide information, for example, the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR). Voc Rehab programs have offices all over the country, and EEOC did a series of webinars because those officers were trying to figure out how they could get connected to the Special Placement Coordinators and get people in local areas into opportunities. So, I think maybe one of the things that we can also think about is, if you guys have organizations that you’re partnering with, if you have MOUs, if you want to send that to me or add that information to the FEED collaboration page, we can then put that together into a list of resources so that you guys can set things up for your own programs with the contacts that other agencies are using. So, I think we’re almost out of time, and I want to give a big round of applause to all of our panelists. Thank you! I’m going to turn it over to Dexter Brooks.
Dexter Brooks: So, before we conclude, we want to bring up one of our key partners, the , the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN). EARN is a key member of our partnership group and Brett is going to give you some information about what is going on at EARN, and next steps for the FEED group.
As we throw out topics, we want to make the transition to where you are guiding the content, telling us what you need as a community to help you do your jobs better. We have ideas, we know we want to give you information about MD-715 and everything you need to fill it out. But, if you want us to focus on other things, that’s what we want to do, too. Now, I want to hand it over to my key collaborator, Brett Sheats.
Brett Sheats, National Project Director, EARN: Thanks Dexter, and thank you to all of our panelists–thank you for coming today. These FEED meetings, how long have we been doing this now? A year and a half? We have hundreds of folks all across the country on the FEED mailing list. So, the folks you see here in this room are a slice of all the folks that are listening on the phone, that contact us via email. We’re so proud that this group is growing and it’s a place where we can share best practices across the entire Federal Government. This creates a stronger, more inclusive place for people with disabilities and it’s because of people like you that this is happening.
I want to share a message from our friends at ODEP and I’m going to read it here. It’s about the WRP program, which we talked a little bit about earlier. The WRP is currently looking for federal employees to serve as recruiters to conduct phone interviews with college students with disabilities for inclusion in the WRP database. Interviews will be conducted during the month of November. For more information on how to become a recruiter, you can visit the WRP.gov website or take a WRP recruiter flier. They are on the table right outside the door, so you can grab one on your way out. Finally, if you would prefer to email someone, the address is WRP@DOL.gov. We love our volunteers, they are vital to the success of the WRP program.
One quick thing from EARN. You are going to see an EARN training center on our website, on the home page, soon. We are going to have training on disability inclusion that will be applicable to people in the public and private sector. One thing you’ll see, and we’ll let you know via email when it goes up online, is a tribute video to Dinah Cohen that was done by the Viscardi Center. She worked with EARN over the last few years, and as Michael eloquently shared at the beginning of this meeting, she’s a titan in our field. I can only hope to touch the number of lives and empower the number of people that Dinah did. So, that training center will be named after her and be in her honor [Clapping]. I’m proud to say that’s one part of how we’re going to continue her legacy.
I’m going to finish up today harkening back to a question that was asked a little earlier in the meeting. And to me it is one of the most important and fundamental questions that we as advocates have to be able to answer. And that is, and I’ll paraphrase the question, “Why use Schedule A? I want to get the best, so I want to use the competitive process.” And I think that’s a good question for someone that really hasn’t thought about inclusion before. And there’s lots of people who haven’t, maybe it’s something they have never really considered. The normal hiring process that we go through, whether it be in the Federal Government or college applications or the private sector, it tries to take into account the quality of the candidate through parameters that are “vanilla,” if you will–that are the easiest way to consider a large number of people that are fairly homogenous. That works to an extent.
What that doesn’t do is take into account special experiences, abilities and perspectives that cannot be summed up by the normal process. Wherever you set those left and right limits, that’s not everything in this world, that’s not all experiences, perspectives and abilities in this world. So, what we do through Schedule A and what we do through inclusive hiring, through affirmative action, and I’m preaching to the choir here, but we have to be able to communicate that to the person that says, “I want the best, I want the competitive process.” We have to say, “That’s not the way to find the very best, That’s the way to find qualified good candidates, but do you want someone that’s going to knock it out of the park, take it to the next level? Here is different way to find those folks.” Those folks that are going to create a diverse team–a team of diverse perspectives, of incredible abilities, different types of abilities–this is a tool to take your team to that next level. And it’s not that these folks are being malicious or don’t understand that because they don’t want to understand it, it’s, “Oh, I never thought of it that way before!”
And that is our job, the folks on the phone, the people in this room, if we cannot enunciate that, no one can. That is our job to be able to tell folks to think about it in a little different way, and once you’ve thought about it, go home tonight, have a glass of scotch, eat a nice dinner, think about it and when you’ve come back, talk to me and I’ll help you through that process. That’s the answer to that question. That’s the business case. That’s not a nice thing to do, it’s what’s vital to do to take us to the next level. So, that question to me is philosophical, foundational, but it is why we’re here. And I’m so proud to be able to be partners with you guys on this team to further that goal in the 21st century in the Federal Government. Thank you all for coming. We’ll see you next time.
Dexter Brooks: For those online, this is Dexter Brooks. We are concluding the call. And the answer to the question, if you want to sell it to your managers in the future, is call Brett. Because Brett can do that speech in two minutes and I think he will move those managers. That was excellent. So, thank you and have a great rest of your day. And look for announcements for the next meeting, and let us know about topics that you want to see, future presentations or collaborations, or if you want us to present different information. Think about those things and use the collaboration tool on OPM’s MAX.gov. Thank you and have a great day.
[END OF MEETING]