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Hiring People with Disabilities

John Barry, recipient of the Tony Coelho Award, discusses the contribution made by people with disabilities to our nation.

The Tony Coelho Award recognizes commitment and action to employ people with disabilities– in every available position.  I was honored to accept this year’s award on behalf of OPM this past Wednesday.  It reflects our work towards OPM’s simple goal: Hire the best.

At least two of our presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, lived with disabilities.  First-hand accounts tell us that President Lincoln experienced depression. From his wheelchair, President Roosevelt led America through a Great Depression and a World War.

The American people hired the best in those two cases, and we need to do more of that today.  We need to tap into the creativity, the determination, and the smart minds in the disability community.

That’s why President Obama set the goal of the federal government being a model employer of people with disabilities.  That’s why I set a goal at OPM that 10% of our hires should be people with disabilities – a goal we surpassed in 2011, with 11.2%.  We’ve doubled our hiring among those with targeted disabilities, and we’re striving to hit our goal of making them 3% of our hires.

I see qualified people who are unacceptably underutilized even though they are willing and able to work and there are jobs they can excel at.  This is unacceptable for all of us, because our nation will only continue to succeed if we leave no talent pool idle and untapped.

What didn’t stop Lincoln from reuniting our country shouldn’t stop anyone today from working as a defense civilian to continue protecting America.

What didn’t stop Roosevelt from fighting poverty and disease as President shouldn’t stop anyone from working at NIH to search for cures.

Remember, any of us could join this community in an instant.

While most people would fear such a change, the example of leaders like Dan Inouye in the Senate, Jim Langevin in the House of Representatives, and countless others shows that we should not.

Their service enriches our nation, and serves as a model to us all.  Their example shows that you can live with a disability and make profound and lasting contributions to your neighbors, your community, and your country. 

John Berry is the Director for the Office of Personnel Management.