Commission Meeting on the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities in the Federal Government - June 28, 2006
Good morning everyone, my name is Heidi Burghardt and I am Vice Executive Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government. I am pleased to be invited today on behalf of Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government. I am here to represent Mr. William Bowman who is the Executive Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government (DHHIG). He has a long-standing commitment that he couldn’t get out of. He asked me to discuss issues relating to employment, retention and promotion of deaf and hard of hearing employees in the federal workplace. We believe this is the first time that our organization has been asked to come to give a testimony before the commission. We thank you for that.
Please allow us to give you a brief history of this organization. Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Government (DHHIG) was founded more than ten years ago to address pressing issues that face our deaf and hard of hearing employees everyday in the federal workplace. DHHIG is a 501(c) 3 non profit organization serving approximately 5,100 federal deaf and hard of hearing employees throughout the country and overseas alike. The officers are elected every two years and they work for the organization as volunteers. Eventually, as part of our long term goal, DHHIG will have its own full time home office with paid positions. Unlike the other disability categories, we are disabled primarily not because of physical disability, but communication. Our population is often set apart from the rest of the population in the workplace because of different language and communication barriers, so therefore our issues are quite different from the general disability population. This testimony will reflect the actual experiences of only federal deaf or hard of hearing. The Federal government is the largest employer of the deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
DHHIG sponsors a National Training Conference that takes place every two years in Washington, D.C. along with an annual One-Day Seminar on current trends. Our current strategic goals call for greater collaboration with federal agencies in providing services that will enhance employment opportunities for our members and those who want to enter the federal workplace. DHHIG also serves as a clearinghouse for advocacy and referral service for those federal agencies who seek information and resources on deaf-related issues.
Unfortunately, as you probably know by now, there continues to be a sharp decline in the number of deaf and hard of hearing individuals entering the federal workforce. According to EEOC statistics, there was a 17.35% steady decline in hiring people with targeted disabilities in the federal government for the 10-year time period between fiscal years 1995 and 2004. Additionally, during this same time period, the number of targeted deaf and hard of hearing employees employed in the federal government has declined 22.51% from 6,123 to 4,745. This information can be found on the EEOC Website: http://www.eeoc.gov/federal/fsp2004/aed/table2.html. Furthermore, some of the issues that affect deaf individuals affect all potential applicants with targeted disabilities:
Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals also face unique challenges and barriers to employment in the Federal government. The education system in the United States has not shown consistency in educating people with disabilities. The education of individuals with pre-lingual deafness is especially disreputable. Agencies report that they have deaf employees who are college graduates but can not compose an intelligible email. In today’s work environment, literacy is increasingly important, which renders these individuals virtually unemployable.
Additionally, there is an alarming lack of career advancement among deaf and hard of hearing Federal employees. Upward mobility in the Federal government has come to a standstill in spite of the many qualified deaf and hard of hearing employees and senior level candidates. In an attempt to bring attention to this matter, in October 2005, DHHIG teamed with other disability organizations and published an ad in the Washington Post to educate the public about this issue, see http://www.dhhig.org/public/finalwashpost_ad_20041029.pdf
To date, we have not been successful in our efforts to work with Federal agencies to encourage greater support for this important issue. Potential solutions include establishing special employment programs to recruit and successfully place deaf and hard of hearing individuals in Federal agencies.
We would also propose that Congress establish a specialized interagency council within the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to address the following, not necessarily in order:
EEOC reports in prior years showed that deaf and hard-of-hearing Federal employees had the lowest pay average of all groups except those with mental retardation. To our knowledge, the Federal government has done nothing to address this disparity. We also struggle with communication barriers; we are requesting improvements in accessibility of communication. Listed below are some suggestions:
We applaud you for recognizing the urgency of this issue and we appreciate any assistance that you can provide to help Congress provide Federal agencies the authority and resources to implement improvements to address the concerns raised in this letter. Implementation of these recommendations listed here will bring the Federal Government into more substantive compliance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and help make it a model employer.
We also strongly believe it is also imperative to include people who are deaf and hard of hearing in this effort.
In closing, I want to express again my heartfelt thanks to you for making this hearing possible. As I said at the beginning of my testimony today, DHHIG is so thrilled to be able to participate in this event and we consider this an opportunity for partnership with federal agencies in addressing these significant issues. With your commitment and other federal agencies, OPM in particular to follow through, we all together can make the future of our members a better place to work and a bright future ahead of us.
This page was last modified on June 28, 2006.
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