CAREERS & the disABLED
» Featured Articles
» Subscription Information
» Reader Survey
» Companies Actively Recruiting
Uncle Sam Wants You
Uncle Sam wants you! That phrase was used on the historic WWI posters encouraging international support for our allies. Today that phrase is just as true, but it can be applied differently when it comes to working for the federal government.
Beyond the military, there are so many avenues for people with disabilities and people of all abilities to find their niche and the promise of a career and an experience of a lifetime. In fact, due to the array of agencies, commissions and departments, there are myriad options and multiple roles that tap your talents and expand your skill set.
Just logging onto usajobs.gov shows you a host of hiring paths. It also says that, as a federal employee, “you and your family have access to a range of benefits that are designed to make your federal career very rewarding.”
But don’t simply take the website’s word for it. The employees featured here personify how people with disabilities can thrive, letting their abilities shine and flourish. Each one ascended to their current roles via hard work and determination in government work environments that are accommodating and emphasize diversity, merit and collaboration. Read one to learn more and glean key career advice.
Copy (2,872 words):
NPS’ Bloomer Makes the Nation’s Parks Accessible for All
Ray Bloomer had perfect timing, for he began his 40-year National Park Service (NPS) career at Independence Historic Park in Philadelphia, PA in 1976, the nation’s Bicentennial. He then pinballed around the NPS and the country, from Boston (MA) National Historic Park to the NPS North Atlantic Regional Office, and then onto becoming the chief of interpretation at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay, NY.
And, like a pinball, he eventually dropped into the perfect slot, becoming the director of education and technical assistance at the National Center on Accessibility (NCA) in Bloomington, IN for NPS. Located on the Indiana University, Bloomington campus, the NCA was established 20 years ago via a cooperative agreement between Indiana University and the National Park Service.
During the last two decades, NCA has emerged as a leading authority on access issues unique to park and recreation programs and facilities. And, upon arriving, Bloomer largely configured his role at NCA to update the Washington, DC-headquartered NPS about accessibility.
Given the scope of the nation’s parks and museums, and the range of terrains, it’s a role that keeps Bloomer beyond busy as he consults with architects and park supervisors, builders and exhibit designers. His consultations and technical assistance address both interpretive programming and exhibit design, as well as outdoor areas ranging from trails to beaches and picnic areas. So how does he keep his batteries charged after four decades of service?
“When you hit a level of success on a project [that] eliminate[es] some barriers or being involved in developing accessibility, many people in the future will have doors opened, so your work goes on and on,” Bloomer notes.
His work is appreciated and honored at the highest levels. He was the 2009 recipient of the National Accessibility Leadership Achievement Award presented by the National Park Service. In 2010 he was awarded the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Award for Excellence in Accessibility Leadership. Bloomer’s work might be enhanced by his personal insight into accessibility issues.
“I have approximately 1 percent sight and use a cane. I see a little better than shadow vision. I use a screen reader for my computer, which turns text into speech,” he explains.
“I was sighted for 17 years and lost vision due to neural retinitis, which is inflammation of the optic nerve. It affected my left eye first and my right eye three months later, taking only three days. I was a senior in high school at the time.”
Of course, being blind doesn’t give Bloomer essential insight into all disabilities.
As a result, he says, “I’ve had to do a great deal of reading about various disabilities about the issues of those people. Luckily, in my work, I also get to interact with people having various disabilities, so I get their direct input. I ask them so many questions, develop friendships with them, and use them again and again. I ask them about the various barriers and the best way to experience a national treasure.”
Making an exhibit accessible isn’t just about the height of a display or the width of a viewing area. “Accessibility isn’t simply mechanics. For example, to develop an equivalent experience for blind people, it’s more than just providing things to touch if that touching doesn’t tell the full story as that delivered to sighted people,” Bloomer elaborates.
“That’s my challenge: telling the full story to diverse people. How do you create the full picture for the blind and others down to the smallest details? We want to create more than alternatives. We want to create alternatives that are equally valuable experiences, so our disabled citizens are included. People with disabilities do experience exclusion and discrimination. We might not be able to fully level the playing field everywhere, but we do the best we can wherever we can. We want to eliminate separation, to keep family and friends together. I think about that with regard to all of the various disabilities.”
Bloomer still encounters new challenges, however, such as a campground with quiet time at night and a citizen who needs a generator to run his CPAP.
“I was asked to consult on accommodating someone with a CPAP breathing machine. We gave the park several solutions, such as a quiet generator designed for the CPAP, providing an electrical outlet, or batteries the park can buy and provide to the visitor. The person is already providing their own accommodation, the generator, but the park [was] saying they can’t use that.”
And just as Bloomer works out these new accessibility challenges for citizens visiting the nation’s parks, and turns each one into accessibility success story, the NPS also accommodates Bloomer so he can rise to each new challenge.
“For reading, I use the Victor Reader Screen. It’s a device where information is put on an SD card. It can read back documents and books from the library for the Blind, and I can put notes on it too. It’s smaller than a deck of cards,” he clarifies.
“My smartphone can do a lot of things now. The iPhone went from the worst to first in one generation in terms of accessibility, when they added the voiceover feature to the touch screen. It suddenly became an excellent device. Many employees are provided with cell phones, which don’t have to be modified, since Apple built the accommodation right into the device. My screen reader is JAWS.”
However, Bloomer doesn’t act like the shark in the movie Jaws when it comes to tussling over certain issues. Instead, he chooses what ones are the most important. It’s sound advice he offers others.
“Pick your battles. Sometimes we can influence those people and sometimes we can’t. Look before leaping. Choose the issues that are worth going to the mat because you can’t fight every battle.”
Navigate nps.gov/aboutus/workwithus.htm for NPS job paths. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Flickr and iTunes.
Tezak Leads CBP’s Office of the Executive Secretariat
Joe Tezak is director, executive secretariat at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is based in Washington, DC. Being quadriplegic, he works from a wheelchair and has a solid sense of humor about that.
“I bring my own chair to work, so I save the government a couple hundred dollars as they don’t have to provide a chair,” he jokes. “I also make it easier for the cleaning lady, too, as she doesn’t have to sweep under my chair at night.”
However, when it comes to the work that Tezak and his 60,000 colleagues do, it couldn’t be more serious.
For example, in a typical day, CBP, the largest law enforcement arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), processes more than a million passengers and pedestrians, and conducts about a thousand apprehensions between U.S. ports of entry and arrests of 23 wanted criminals, plus discovers about 500 pests and 5,000 materials for quarantine, and seizes about a thousand pounds of drugs and $4 million worth of products with intellectual property rights violations. The CBP also identifies about 600 individuals every day with suspected national security concerns.
The importance of CBP’s work explains Tezak’s pride in his career: “First and foremost, I love our mission. Every day I come to work, I’m having an impact on our nation’s safety and economy. I see the results of what we do on a daily basis. Living and working in Washington, DC, I’m at the center of so much, and what we do has such an impact.”
And what is Tezak’s role? “Our office manages and tracks all of the communication coming out of our agency outside of the public affairs realm. That might be members of Congress, communication between agencies and all reporting requirements.”
Being the conduit for so much data can mean something gets misplaced or overlooked. Tezak found himself in such a situation, but applied Harry Truman’s motto: “The buck stops here.”
He elaborates: “I was in a supervisory position and senior management asked about the status of a project, wanting to know why it wasn’t completed. I wasn’t looped into it, but responded that it was my office and staff, and that I would take charge as it was my responsibility. While it was investigated for a couple weeks, I was moved to another position.”
However, the end result was a positive one for Tezak. “It was determined that I had nothing to do with the project, and my supervisor thanked me for my accountability and not blaming others. She was appreciative that I’d stepped up to the plate and kept my cool. The end result was a great personal relationship with that senior manager.”
Tezak has a history of recovering from such trials. When he was young, he attended a New Year’s Eve party. The hosting apartment had a Murphy’s bed, which folds into the wall, and all evening long, the attendees had joked about an I Love Lucy episode where Ricky and Lucy kept being raised into the wall every time a train passed. As a lark, another partygoer tried to raise the bed while Tezak partially lay on it with his feet on the floor. He was thrown against the wall.
“I heard a couple pops in my neck, and my hands and feet went numb,” he recalls. “I knew something was wrong right away. Paramedics were called and I went into surgery that night. The next morning, I awoke with an NG [nasogastric feeding] tube in my nose. I thought it was an oxygen tube and tried to pull it out, thinking I was ready to go home, but the nurses freaked out. A doctor came and explained I was a quadriplegic.”
Tezak does have limited use of his arms, hands and legs, which allow him to row a scull on the Anacostia River with a group of other disabled rowers. However, it’s his internal abilities that have allowed him to excel in his career.
“Ours is a law enforcement agency, so two thirds of our workforce are armed. The other third is support staff,” he states.
“I share this because I’ve come into an organization that’s law enforcement-focused, but I’ve been hired and promoted to leadership. They don’t evaluate me on my disability, but my ability. If you have the skills and the ability, then you’ll have your chance here.”
It’s essential, Tezak encourages, you don’t take that chance for granted.
“Wherever you are and whatever you do, don’t get hired because of your disability. Get hired because of your ability. You want to go above and beyond expectations. Show you do the job as well or better than others. I told my first mentor that I wanted my job. He said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s make a plan for you to achieve that.’ Think big.”
Check cbp.gov/careers for CBP career paths. Connect on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Flickr.
TVA’s Wormsley Champions Diversity, Collaboration as She Welcomes New Hires
If you’re hired at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), then Dawn Wormsley’s smiling face will be there to greet you. That’s her job: she does external hires, processes them and conducts new employee orientation.
Her title is administrator deployment and support onboarding, but her role is to welcome you, show you the ropes and gain secure footing as you begin your career. It’s a career that for most that are hired, in the old-school sense, never leave.
“If you’re lucky enough to work at the TVA, then you won’t leave here. You’ll retire here,” Wormsley asserts.
And she embodies her assertion, since she’s worked at the TVA for 24 years and is still going strong.
“I love the TVA’s mission of service to the people of the Valley to make life better. It’s the ideal place to work because our work is so important,” she shares.
“We make life better and energy cheaper for our neighbors. Plus, there are really great people here. It feels like family through your good times and bad times. We have great benefits, too.”
The Knoxville, TN-based TVA was formed in 1934 to make life better for the people of the Tennessee Valley via affordable energy, economic development and environmental stewardship. Currently employing 10,500 workers, the TVA has long recognized the power of diversity.
“The TVA has been a leader in diversity and inclusion since we were first formed. We support several affinity groups and value diversity of perspective. Different perspectives give us different looks at a problem,” she underscores.
Wormsley conveys the TVA’s values in her orientation classes. “We address our valuing of diversity in our new employee orientation, and we’ve been told many times by new hires that their old companies didn’t have such a clear vision and valuing.”
TVA also values of collaboration. In fact, it was what kept the organization on an even keel during a stormy patch.
“In 2014 we went through a major reorganization. Like in any business, any organizational changes can cause questions and concerns among the workforce,” Wormsley remembers.
“It worked out because we looked to each other. We were all going through the same thing, so we weren’t alone. Some had to transfer to other positions in the TVA, but many ended up enjoying the change and new challenges. Change can be hard, but it’s often good. Growth comes from change. The TVA is a very collaborative culture. It’s in our DNA.”
If the TVA hires you, then you’ll quickly realize that first day the diversity and collaboration the organization values when you meet Wormsley. She elaborates: “I was born with achondroplasia dwarfism. It’s the most common form of dwarfism. My legs and arms are of smaller stature.”
The TVA empowers Wormsley to achieve peak performance. “The TVA has bought me stools to reach the sink and in my work area, too. They bought me a special chair to accommodate someone with dwarfism.”
And Wormsley even parlays her stature to increase her performance and put new hires at ease.
“In my orientation class, the students are seated, so they’re at my eye level. I don’t stand over them. We’re face to face and eye to eye, and I think that helps them relax. I don’t loom over them, so it quickens the connection.”
Traverse tva.com/Careers for TVA career possibilities. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Flickr.
Rinehart Improve Vets’ Quality of Life as Tuscaloosa VA’s Prosthetics Chief
You might assume that John Rinehart, the Tuscaloosa (AL) VA Medical Center’s chief of prosthetics/VISN 7 prosthetics data analyst, was hired by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for his intimate insight into excelling with missing limbs.
“The VA embraces a diverse workforce with consideration in hiring the candidate that’s best qualified. I wasn’t hired because I have one arm and one leg. I was hired because of my expertise in prosthetics and my ability to take care of the veterans we serve,” he states.
For Rinehart, it’s all about serving those who served. “I love that we improve the lives of those that served us by protecting our freedom.”
The prosthetic specialist also sees beyond what’s missing to each person’s talent. “People tend to see what’s physically ‘missing’ rather than the talents and gifts you bring to the table,” he explains.
“I’ve learned to work hard and strive to be the best in my field, so that my merits stand on their own rather than selling myself short and being referred to by others as the guy who was hired because of this or that label.”
Rinehart was born without one limb and lost another due to infection. “I was born without my right leg. It’s gone at the hip, called a hip disarticulation. At the age of nine, my right arm was amputated below the elbow from osteomyelitis, a bone infection. The toes on my left foot have been revised and amputated across the end joint. The last three fingers on my left hand are missing the end joint,” he shares.
Rinehart made his way to the VA on a circuitous course.
“I was made aware of Federal Hiring (Schedule A) Authority for people with exceptional abilities when I was in my 20s. I avoided these programs because they contained labels like ‘handicapped’ or ‘disabled,’ labels that have never defined me even though I legally fit into this category. I went to vocational rehabilitation. They seem to have lots of access to lower-wage jobs, regardless of your ability. They were helpful in explaining the programs that are available,” he recalls.
“Eventually, through networking and research on my own, I was able to find out about and apply competitively for a paid internship that would give me the VA knowledge I needed to succeed as a prosthetics chief.”
Today, he’s one of 1,500 employees at the Tuscaloosa VA, supervising six of them. His work couldn’t be any more important.
“We improve the quality of life for veterans by providing medical devices and sensory aids as medically indicated,” he points out. “I administrate the entire program to ensure that we stay within our purchasing authority under the guidelines set forth by Congress.”
Delve into va.gov/jobs for VA career possibilities. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Flickr.
» Feedback for the Editor
» Request Article Copy