Friday, April 20, 2012

The Importance of Hiring People with Disabilities

“Hiring people with disabilities is not a them/us issue, it is a we issue”

-Kathy Martinez, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy

On Tuesday, April 10, I attended the CACI Learning Series on Hiring People with Disabilities with several other member of the Recruiting and Workforce Planning team. Our very own Denyse Gordon hosted the event and did a great job. The guest speakers for the event included CACI Executive Vice President Gil Guarino and Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy Kathy Martinez.

Assistant Secretary Martinez has an impressive background. She was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the third Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 25, 2009. As head of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), Martinez advises the Secretary of Labor and works with all DOL agencies to lead a comprehensive and coordinated national policy regarding the employment of people with disabilities.

Martinez’s accolades are plentiful, from being executive director of the World Institute on Disability to being appointed a member of the National Council on Disability by former president George W. Bush. Martinez has an amazing personal story of how she came was able to achieve such a high position in the federal government.

First off, Martinez was born legally blind. Growing up, people told her that she had only three career choices: to become a counselor, work at a call center, or serve as a typist. However, she did not accept that for herself. “Many people would think it’s okay if I just collected disability benefits, but I wanted more,” Martinez said. With this attitude, Martinez was able to put herself through college and became involved in the disability rights and independent living movements in the 1970s. She has been working primarily as a disability rights advocate ever since.

At the CACI event, Martinez made some great points on why hiring people with disabilities is so important, including:

· Twenty-four percent of families have persons with disabilities in their household.

· Hiring people with disabilities impacts market share. People with disabilities are the third largest market in the U.S. One way to tap into this market is to employ these candidates at CACI.

· People are working later in life today and can acquire disabilities with age. It’s important that companies seek out this talent.

· People with disabilities bring fresh ideas and different ways of solving problems.

· People with disabilities able to adapt to circumstances and can help a company’s strategic plan.

This Learning Series had a huge impact on me. Two of the biggest things that stuck out to me during the interview were when Martinez quoted Olympian Scott Hamilton, who said, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” That is so true. Attitude is everything: we have to change our attitude and stereotypes of persons with disabilities or nothing will ever change.

Also, I thought it was interesting when Martinez talked about the word “accommodations” when discussing people with disabilities. She said this term can come off as rude and make people nervous, so she prefers calling tools employees need to function in the workplace “productivity tools.” These are something both people with disabilities and people without disabilities need. It is these types of small culture changes that can make a huge impact on assimilating people with disabilities into the workplace.

CACI does a great job of hiring people with disabilities and I am proud to be with an organization that has a vested interest in employing them. It’s important that we all make the effort to bring more persons with disabilities to the CACI team. I look forward to CACI being a model company for this excellent initiative for years to come.

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