DAM NECK and DAHLGREN, Va. – The Naval Sea Systems Command
(NAVSEA) Disability Program Manager and a severely injured Navy wounded warrior
who returned to active duty shared their stories, challenges, and goals at
National Disability Employment Awareness Month events Oct. 28-29.
“I’m able to
make an immediate impact by offering qualified individuals with disabilities
quality careers,” NAVSEA
Disability Program Manager Joe Aukward told military and civilian personnel at
the two Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) sites.
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician Joe Miller – recipient of the
Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor – joined him at the first observance
held at Dam Neck.
remove the stigma of disability and shift perceptions of what disabled people
can accomplish if given the proper support,” said Miller, who was severely
injured by a land mine in Afghanistan after spending four hours clearing 22
other people out of a mine field.
his rehabilitation treatment at Bethesda Walter Reed Medical Center where he
persevered to walk again in 31 days. He returned to work within three months,
successfully making his case to remain on active duty, and is preparing to head
out on another deployment.
Chief combined humor with show and tell to discuss his disability, quickly eliminating
any pre-conceived bias that listeners may have. If asked, he proudly pulls up
his uniform pant leg to show his prosthetic leg and indicates how he has
adjusted his body mechanics to tackle the many physical challenges that he must
overcome. Miller calls this “active communication” which he believes is
essential for supervisors who may have difficulty starting the conversation
with their disabled employees.
“The fact is
almost all of us will encounter a disability, whether short or long term at
some point in our lives,” said Capt. Eric Tapp, Combat Direction Systems Activity Dam Neck commanding
officer. “People with disabilities are a diverse group that includes people
with sensory, physical, and mental conditions. It is a group anyone can become
a member of at any time, but at work it’s what people can do that matters.”
lost his sight, becoming legally blind in his mid-twenties, but became a
champion for others with disabilities who want to work.
unemployment rate for Americans with a disability is 70 percent,” he said. “That
is too high. It’s our duty to ensure those Americans have employment options.”
– passionate about educating the
disabled and those without a disability – informed the military and civilian
audiences about NAVSEA programs, such as the reasonable accommodation program, designed
to support disabled employees throughout their careers.
challenge with increasing employment opportunities is to reach out to the
targeted men and women with disabilities, he said. “To reach this challenge,
NAVSEA leadership is partnering with organizations to help obtain the hiring
established a program at NAVSEA – which includes NSWCDD and all NAVSEA warfare
center divisions – with three goals: increase employment opportunities for persons
with disabilities; educate the workforce to encourage a culture of full inclusion;
and to ensure employees with disabilities have the resources they need to be
increase employment opportunities, we are educating our workforce to embrace a
climate of full inclusion,” he said. “For our current workforce of persons with
disabilities, NAVSEA offers a robust reasonable accommodation process. Two
examples are sign language interpreters and screen readers software.”
spent time speaking with employees individually about the NAVSEA Disability Program at both events.
agreed that more proactive and interactive approaches need to be taken to
ensure disabled veterans are aware of available accommodations, and that their
disabilities do not limit them,” said Marietto Jeffries, NSWCDD Veterans Employment Special
Emphasis Program Manager. “I believe that my own disabilities do not mean that
I am disabled or incapable of performing my job and that with reasonable
accommodation I am capable and better equipped to succeed.”