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JBSA honors National Disability Employment Awareness Month

| Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs | Oct. 18, 2016

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- — October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and is a time to recognize the many and significant contributions workers with disabilities have made. It also serves as an opportunity to reaffirm a commitment to recruit, retain and advance people with disabilities in the workforce.

NDEAM dates back to 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” The name changed in 1962 to remove “physically” to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of people with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to what it is today.

According to the Air Force Personnel Center, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual. Some examples include deafness, blindness, mobility impairments, cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lisa Cevallos, Air Force Affirmative Employment Special Emphasis program manager at Headquarters Air Force Personnel Center, said there are some myths that may impact the employment of individuals with disabilities.

“Some people wrongly believe employees with disabilities do not have the required education,” Cevallos said. “The fact is, over half have a high school diploma and over one-third have post-secondary degrees.

“Supervisors may also believe employees with disabilities are more difficult to supervise or will require special help from others,” Cevallos continued. “However, in most cases, individuals with disabilities have already adjusted to their disability and with proper training, can work unaided.”

Other myths are that employees with disabilities are less reliable and absent more often or that it can be expensive to accommodate a worker with a disability, Cevallos said.

“On average, employees with disabilities are not absent any more than employees without disabilities and most job accommodations are simple and inexpensive and frequently include changes in job duties or modified hours.

“The bottom line is people with disabilities are just like any other person that would be employed in that we are all unique,” Cevallos affirmed. “There are thousands of civilians with disabilities who come to work for the Air Force every day and they are a valued and vital part of our workforce.”

Joe Diaz, the Air Force Civilian Service plan coordinator at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, is one of these valued and vital civilians working for the Air Force.

Diaz, who at 19 years old was injured in an accident that severed his spine, discovered the opportunity to work as a student intern in the Air Force Civilian Service at Randolph while attending the University of Texas at San Antonio. After completing his AFCS internship and earning his bachelor’s degree in information systems in 2007, Diaz joined AFCS as a full-time employee who ensures the success of other student interns who want to become full-time Air Force civilian employees.

“Part of my job is going out on recruiting events, so I feel I’m really contributing to the Air Force mission,” Diaz said. “Being confined to a wheelchair, I can tell and show people I’m the product of a great opportunity. I’m proof that you can do it and do well as a civilian in the Air Force.”

President Barack Obama said in a proclamation signed on Sept. 30, “this month, we recognize the significant progress our country has made for those living with disabilities, and we honor the lasting contributions and diverse skills they bring to our workforce.”

Diaz exemplifies these lasting contributions and diverse skills within our disabled civilian workforce and has earned a prestigious award for creating a new reporting process that saved time and money for U.S. Air Force.

“In 2013, I received a Special Act Award for improving and streamlining reporting processes,” he said. “I know this is just the start of what I’m capable of doing and achieving here. I don’t think my luck could be any better.

“I was fortunate the Air Force had programs aimed at promoting diversity, such as the internship I participated in,” Diaz continued. “It gave me the opportunity to be part of the team. Our diverse workforce gives us such a bunch of folks with different backgrounds and that means different aspects and ideas, all leading to new ways of breaking down and solving challenges.”

Diaz has set his sights on becoming a part of the elite Air Force Career Broadening Leadership Program.

“I want to ultimately be able to better define current processes and introduce new ideas to meet Air Force goals and objectives for tomorrow’s Air Force,” he said.

The words of the President remind us that NDEAM is about awareness, education and proactively creating an inclusive work environment that allows all our civilian employees the opportunity to succeed.

“This month, let us continue striving to forge a future where workplaces are more inclusive and where employees are more accepted for who they are,” Obama said. “And because we know that our country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, let us keep working to ensure no one is left behind or unable to pursue their dreams because of a disability.”

Employees who feel they are being discriminated against because of a disability should talk with their supervisor. If the problem persists, employees should contact the installation Disability Program Manager or visit their installation Equal Opportunity office.