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NEWS | Oct. 12, 2023

Observance to highlight access, equity for people with disabilities

By Aime Lykins, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

Within the U.S., the observation of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is recognized annually during the month of October. National Disability Employment Awareness Month celebrates the contributions that individuals with disabilities make each day across the nation.

Led by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, the observance of NDEAM reaffirms the country’s commitment to recruit, retain and advance individuals with disabilities throughout the American workforce.

The 2023 theme is “Advancing Access and Equity” to shine a spotlight on ensuring individuals with disabilities have meaningful job opportunities that allow them to be professionally successful over the course of their careers. This year marks 50 years since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The act was a major milestone in advancing access and equity for people with disabilities, and was the first legislative effort to secure an equal playing field for individuals with disabilities. Additionally, it laid the foundation for the more extensive Americans with Disabilities Act signed in 1990.

Recognizing that all employees bring unique skill sets, mental models and talents, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility provides resources to ensure its entire workforce has equal opportunity to contribute to the mission, while recognizing the need to support and accommodate those with disabilities.

The shipyard prioritizes diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. It is a national security imperative to ensure critical perspectives and talents are represented within the U.S. Navy’s civilian workforce. One way PSNS & IMF supports individuals with disabilities is by offering a reasonable accommodation program. In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal opportunity. The reasonable accommodation process is interactive so that employees have a say in which accommodations are best suited for them.

“Reasonable accommodation allows a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of their job or enjoy the benefits of employment,” said Tahnee Orcutt, disability and reasonable accommodation supervisor, U.S. Pacific Fleet Equal Employment Opportunity Office Northwest. “Reasonable accommodation is available for medical conditions, disabilities, pregnancy and religious beliefs.

Types of accommodation include making facilities accessible, acquiring assistive devices, modifying work schedules, authorizing telework, permitting use of accrued and unpaid leave, test-taking assistance, providing readers or interpreters and possible reassignment to vacant positions within the command.

“I think it’s important to be open and honest with your employees about reasonable accommodation options available to them as there are many creative solutions,” said Jacquelynne Rase, Shop 31, Inside Machine Shop, operations and budget supervisor and co-chair for the shipyard’s CrossAbilites Employee Resource Group. “For example, I have an employee who is sensitive to the harsh fluorescent lighting. I noticed that she was turning the lights off and using paper to prevent the light from directly shining on her. I sat down and asked her what was going on and we brainstormed some ideas. As a result, I reached out to the building manager asking if we could remove some of the bulbs, or purchase light shade covers, and he said both were an option, and even linked some approved shade cover options. Now I have a happy employee because we get to order some fun light shade covers for our office space and her needs are met. Simple solutions can have a big impact.”

For other more complex accommodations, the Reasonable Accommodation Office should be contacted so they can start tracking the request.

“When a reasonable accommodation request is submitted, management has 45 calendar days to respond to the request in writing, absent tolling of timeframe to obtain medical documentation from the requestor,” said Orcutt. “The initial request for reasonable accommodation does not have to be in writing, but a request for accommodation begins when an employee or applicant puts management on notice that they need an accommodation.”

Orcutt also encourages supervisors to maintain open and constant communication, consider all options, and work with their EEO advisors as soon as a request is submitted.

The shipyard provides ample resources for individuals with disabilities, and the command works closely with the Human Resources Office and Employee Resource Groups to ensure that everyone who enters the gates has a chance to thrive in their work environment.

Employees, or someone on their behalf, can request reasonable accommodation with a human resources specialist, hiring manager or the reasonable accommodation point of contact. The USPACFLT EEO reasonable accommodation intake line can also be accessed at 808-471-5099 or by emailing

PSNS & IMF employees are also encouraged to attend CrossAbilities Employee Resource Group meetings to learn more about supporting individuals with disabilities. Regular monthly meetings take place the third Tuesday of each month from 11 a.m. to noon in Building 435, 3rd floor, Conference Room 326.

To learn more about the CrossAbilities ERG, visit the Employee Resource Group page on the Diversity Leadership Council’s SharePoint site.